Friday, November 14, 2008
I had my first real experience with alternative medicine in residency. Sure I had heard of it before, and was even a little skeptical of the completely outlandish stuff like psychic healing and homeopathy, but I accepted a lot of it at face value. When a commercial for chiropractic came on I didn’t think twice about it. These are licensed doctors of the spine after all. And everyone knows that acupuncture has been proven for things like pain and nausea right? But just as I was discovering the skeptical community thanks to an interview by Penn and Teller of someone named James Randi, I met a little girl one night in the pediatric emergency center who couldn’t breathe.
This little girl, the daughter of a singer who I happened to be a huge fan of, was in something called status asthmaticus, which is when an acute asthma attack isn’t responding well to the standard treatments like albuterol inhalers and intranasal steroids. Her asthma had been flaring up for about a week prior to the acute worsening and the call for an ambulance to bring her in. During this week she had been receiving care by a chiropractor who did not believe that inhalers and steroids were necessary. Now I can’t say that if she had used standard medical treatment at home, her respiratory failure would have been prevented, but I can say with certainty that chiropractic care did nothing to prevent it. Later in the same week I encountered another young girl with difficulty breathing, this time because of an abscess in her throat that had been growing larger and had begun to block her airway. She had been brought to both a chiropractor and an acupuncturist for complaints of fever, cough and sore throat. Any intern, if not most medical students, would have been able to make the diagnosis based on classic findings but it was missed. The ironic thing is that she might have actually benefited somewhat from having a needle shoved into her if it had been shoved into the pocket of infection so that it might drain and decrease in size. The girl with asthma narrowly avoided being placed on a ventilator, the second girl recovered well after emergency surgery, and I became inspired to seek out as much knowledgeable as possible about quackery in all its forms.
These situations are thankfully not that common, but even one child that suffers because of delayed medical care while a parent is seeking out so-called alternative medicine is too many, especially when you consider that in all of these cases there is no chance of a cure. But, like I said, these kind of catastrophic events are not common with kids. Adults are much more likely to make use of alternative therapies and diagnostic modalities when faced with serious medical conditions. And a large number of people of all ages make use of alternative medicine for non-life threatening concerns, especially common signs and symptoms of just getting older like aches and pains, fatigue, decreased memory, etc, etc. So if alternative medicine is so popular, shouldn’t we at least have a decent grasp of what exactly it is?
The truth is that there is no such thing as alternative medicine. There is no such thing as western medicine or eastern medicine either, and claims of the existence of such entities as complementary or integrative medicine are grossly exaggerated regardless of what you may see on Oprah. The simple fact of the matter is that there is only medicine. There is medicine that works, medicine that doesn’t, and medicine that hasn’t yet been evaluated for efficacy. Of course, it goes even deeper than this. There is the question of safety as well as efficacy. Some treatments, thalidomide comes to mind, are very effective for one concern but still not safe for use. Thalidomide treated the nausea associated with early pregnancy very well but was found to cause birth defects.
The foundation of science-based medicine, the scientific method and subsequent development of such tools as the double-blinded placebo-controlled clinical study, although not perfect, are extremely powerful means of rooting out what works, what doesn’t, what is safe, and what isn’t. The bogus category we know as alternative medicine, or any of the other fictional categories I mentioned before, are marketing terms or terms employed with political intent and came about as a means of helping proponents of quackery to circumvent the process that has led to things like vaccines, antibiotics, or any of a vast array of medical treatments that have significantly increased our life spans and added unprecedented quality to our lives.
Within the confines of an all-inclusive category such as alternative medicine are hundreds, if not thousands, of different, often contradictory therapies. Many chiropractors makes claims that the root of poor health is the obstruction of an innate healing force, which travels from the heavens through the spine. Believers in traditional Chinese medicine accept the existence of a mystical healing energy that flows, not through the spine, but along a number of energy pathways throughout the body known as meridians. Homeopaths propose that water remembers the healing essence of substances no longer present in their pills and drops, and naturopaths, who also accept homeopathy, prescribe herbs and supplements with measurable quantities of ingredients in them. Reflexologists look at the bottom of your feet to diagnose and treat medical maladies while iridologists believe that the pathway to discovering what was, is, or will be ailing you is in the flecks of pigment in your iris. All of these systems, and considerably more, fall under the all-inclusive term alternative medicine.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
"I just don't think that there are a lot of people out there right now taking this seriously," Democratic Senator Hort Perkins explained. "They are either too distracted by the failing economy or tonight's Latin Grammy Awards to realize what is at stake."
Not everyone in Congress is as concerned about the switchover as Senator Perkins, however, with some, like Republican Jenkins Chortworth, disagreeing with portions of proposed legislation geared towards encouraging American citizens to purchase add-on digital tuners. "I find it hard to believe that a few million people losing their television signal will result in widespread panic, riots, and the overthrow of the American government. That being said, while I disagree with government handouts for consumers unable to afford the new equipment, a few months of martial law would probably do the country good."
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
"I think that this is a victory for all Americans," Sacramento Msgr. Mathew J. Kavandish, pastor of St. Piscapo Parish, explained. "This will forever serve as a source of hope for any large groups of people whose basic human rights have been denied by the desire of a much smaller group of people to share in those same rights."
Some Proposition 8 proponents, like Mormom Priest Marcelle Wittmire, are worried that supporters of same-sex marriage might think that a religiously motivated vendetta against homosexuals is involved. "I have nothing against the gays. It's just that I have yet to meet one that isn't a wicked and hellbound wretch bent on dragging down those around them into the Satan's dominion."
Sunday, November 9, 2008
The WHO is no stranger to making unfounded conclusions regarding so-called alternative medicine, an essentially meaningless marketing term that is highly politicized and unfairly allows a large number of modalities utterly lacking in legitimate scientific support to ride the coattails of a few high-profile but equally unfounded therapies. In a May 2003 for instance, the WHO claimed that,
"Acupuncture has been proven effective in relieving postoperative pain, nausea during pregnancy, nausea and vomiting resulting from chemotherapy, and dental pain with extremely low side effects. It can also alleviate anxiety, panic disorders and insomnia."This is true only if the lack of plausibility and the totality of the medical literature on acupuncture is ignored, and only cherry-picked poorly conceived, or small and unconvincing, studies are used to support such claims. The information on traditional medicine provided by the WHO is full of equally unfounded and misleading statements.
A Reuters report on the aforementioned conference reveals just how uncritically the WHO is approaching the subject of traditional medicine. According to the article, the conference, which was attended by representatives from 70+ countries, was an opportunity for brainstorming on how to achieve a wider distribution of traditional medical systems, and how to better combine them with conventional medicine so that both systems benefit. This is, of course, pure and total hogwash. Alternative medical modalities add nothing to conventional medicine.
One WHO official is quoted as saying that"Integration of traditional medicine into national health systems will not only bring benefits to patients, but will also ensure safety and proper use." This sounds reasonable but never pans out. Putting the weight of the WHO behind treatments that are not based on good science, and which often call for the bending of fundamental laws of reality, benefits nobody but those who sell such treatments. And one need look no further than the efforts of the NCCAM to realize that calls for increased research in order to determing what is safe and what works is an expensive waste of time. Proponents of alternative medicine don't care about research unless it supports their belief system.
The author writes that WHO director-general Margaret Chan called traditional medicine "a valuable source of leads for therapeutic advances and the discovery of new classes of drugs." It's true that modern medicine owes much to substances derived from the natural world, but this is a classic bait and switch. The fact that some ingested plants have measurable effects on human physiology that can be harnassed for our benefit in no way supports the silly pre-scientific notions behind most of these traditional systems of healing. There are already rational scientists looking into natural medicines and we don't need the wholesale acceptance of a seemingly unbounded entity such as alternative medicine to encourage more to enter the field.
The article further reveals that,
"Traditional medicine is used throughout China and in other developing countries, even with access to Western-style health care growing. Leech therapy is used in parts of India to treat pain and skin diseases, and hospitals in China often offer both Western treatment and traditional cures like acupuncture or herbal antidotes."This is merely the WHO applying the illogical argument that popularity serves as valid proof of efficacy. It doesn't or else we would still be bleeding folks to relieve their excess blood or purging impurities from our patient's bodies with oral mercurous chloride. But pandering to the masses is the name of the game these days, as evidenced by the growing number of alternative medicine departments in academic medical centers across the United States.
The WHO isn't all bad, not by a long shot. They provide a valuable service and add much to international efforts to end suffering and save lives. But they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to rationally evaluating the place of alternative medicine in global healthcare. The position they are taking runs the risk of adding suffering to the world but emphasizing therapies that have failed to meet the standards of science-based medicine in a number of areas by placing far too much importance on popularity and anecdotal evidence.
Monday, November 3, 2008
"We have reached a point where the luxury of human medical research subjects, acid mine laborers, and game for recreational hunting has become a financial liability that we just can't afford," Commerce Droid BX-419 explained. "To feed, clothe, and sterilize a single human for just one flort cycle costs nearly two remlangs, which is significantly less than the total expenditure of transporting them all back where they came from."
The failing galactic economy has been traced to the financial policies of Overlord Zorg XII, known by his billions of subjects as both the Bringer of Eternal Peace and World Eater. "Geez, I invest the royal treasury in one Emu farm and these guys are calling for my borgle on a plate!"
Thursday, October 30, 2008
"We want parents to understand just what risks their children will be facing," Tab Smiley, head nutritioneer for the center, explained. "All of these common ingredients in Halloween candy are linked to such conditions as childhood obesity, coronary artery disease, diabetes, yeast overgrowth syndrome, and multiple chemical sensitivity."
Smiley recommends that parents go through their childrens' candy prior to consumption in order to prevent any dangerous nutritional imbalances. The Columbus Naturopathy Center is even offering to perform standard naturopathic laboratory testing, including saliva yeast testing, hair heavy metal assays, and live blood analysis, to look for any conditions which might put a child at increased risk. "We are also recommending a nationwide strategy where children exposed to these killer candies can be brought to their local naturopathic practitioner for acute toxin cleansing for the two days after Halloween. Unfortunately we expect that despite our best efforts the number of casualties will likely be in the millions if not more."
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
"Our nation's economy, despite strong fundamentals, is in the kind of trouble that will only respond to decisive and wacky action," McCain explained. "Crazy Larry, now this is a man, my friends, who is literally insane for low, low prices and he will bring that pathologically overwhelming need to save you money to Washington."
Crazy Larry, in addition to having a lengthy track record of setting prices so low that he should be committed, is a religious conservative that supports the war in Iraq and opposes federal funding of stem cell research.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
"I'm sick and tired of those no good kids and their rock and roll music always walking across my lawn," the 72-year-old McCain explained from his front porch while whittling a duck head into the end of old pine walking cane. "And if I catch 'em here again I'm gonna sick my dog on 'em!"
McCain had declared earlier on Sunday during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he would not hesitate to keep any balls, gameboys, or walkmans that found their way onto his property.
Friday, October 24, 2008
"This is something that the entire cosmeceutical industry needs to be very concerned about," lead researcher Dr. Robert Bibble MD, ND, DAOM, RD, who is both a certified herbal psychologist and a certified naturopathic midwife, explained. "As it is we are pretty much down to just yak urine and pigeon droppings. It isn't ideal."
But while Dr. Bibble is calling for industry-wide regulations on the number of new ingredients allowed per product, some experts aren't buying into his doomsday scenario of a world where cosmetic products contain only active ingredients with legitimate evidence for their safety and efficacy. Clinical cosmetician and director of Body Essentials Day Spa in Sedona, AZ isn't concerned at all. "We are pioneering the field of nano-cosmeceuticals, which are are formulated with proprietary, state-of-the-art, nano-technologies such as dynamic intra-dermal nano-vehicles. Our nano-cosmeceuticals implement innovation in nano-formulation of previously exploited botanicals and natural active ingredients. We'll be able to milk this stuff for decades."
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
"This is a wonderful example of the excitment that can come from using real world applications of scientific principles as part of the educational process for young students," Jim Hope, principal of New Frontiers Elementary School, explained. "It's a shame about Timmy though. He was a good kid if not a strong swimmer."
The Make-A-Wish Foundation®, which has been been granting wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions since 1980, is no stranger to wish related fatalities according to Make-A-Wish National Board and Executive Committee chair Robert J. Bigler. "This one kid wanted a pet lion. It didn't go well but we came away from the experience with a deeper understanding of the predator-prey relationship so, you know, there's always a silver lining."
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The team feels that despite having failed in their primary mission to record images of the Yeti in action, the footprints are all the proof they need. The footprints in question, of which only one image is provided alongside the article by the AFP, is yet another case of Bigfoot is in the eye of the believer. To me, an admitted amateur print analyzer, it looks only vaguely footprint like and could easily be explained by simple random noise of melting snow being misinterpreted by a group of people biased by their belief system. It hardly serves as extraordinary evidence.
The logical fallacy which seems to be at the root of the team's announcement is an argument from ignorance, or in the form I prefer, an argument by lack of imagination. The team leader explains, in reference to the proposed Yet prints, "Myself and other team members have been coming to the Himalayas for years and we can recognise bear, deer, wolf and snow leopard prints and it was none of those,". He adds that "We remain convinced it is real. The footprints and the stories the local tell make us sure that it is not imaginary,". Because the team cannot imagine that the prints could come from an animal that they know to roam the region where the print was found, they believe that by default it must have been left by a Yeti. That simply doesn't cut it.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
In it, Conger reveals that "Some people might be hesitant to admit that they believe in ghosts. But if you've ever heard a chilling bump in the night when you're home alone, ghosts might not be such a leap of faith." Apparantly Conger subscribes to the notion that there are no unbelievers when things get spooky. A similiar sentiment, assumed to be an unassailable fact of life by a substantial percentage of Americans, that there are no atheists in foxholes, is equally patently false. Far from being the exception to the rule (ever heard of Joe Nickell?), I don't break a sweat when confronted with eerie noises or unexplained visual phenomena.
Conger, while researching the subject of ghosts and hauntings, doesn't seem to have broken a sweat either, likely having simply clicked on the first few links provided by Google. These are almost always void of any skeptical input. But Conger isn't alone in taking such a credulous approach to reporting on ghouls and goblins. Not thinking critically and asking important questions, like are their legitimate contrary opinions on what I'm writing about (or in this case is their near total agreement by the scientific community that what I'm writing about is hokum), is the hallmark of pseudojournalism. Conger actually does list his sources, which consist of just a few unskeptical compendiums of popular haunted dwellings, at the end of the piece.
Conger cites the Association for the Scientific Study of Anomalous Phenomena (ASSAP) in the piece, failing to mention that this organization merely uses "science" as a thin facade while it employs a wide range of unproven investigational methods. They make a concerted effort to seperate themselves from other paranormal investigators by pointing out how flawed their research is and how challenging it is to do a proper scientific investigation of ghosts and other entities which according to true skeptics are lacking in both plausibility and legitimate evidence to support their existence. But their approach is far from unique with its blatant use of pseudoscience.
On their website, they point out that the many instruments used in the ghost hunting trade are not always reliable yet they still rely on them to snooker folks who may not know that the all the digital readings of room temperature and electromagnetic fields, and electronic voice phenomena, are examples of the misuse of scientific equipment and paredolia. Members of ASSAP fall into the same trap of circular logic that every ghost hunter eventually does. They use instruments to aid in differentiating true hauntings from frauds, hallucinations and misperceptions, while citing true hauntings as the means of establishing what meaningful anomalous instrument readings are. The entire endeavor is a house of cards built on a shaky foundation of anecdotes and buttressed by meaningless bells and whistles.
Conger addresses readers who may be concerned that their own home has been invaded by spirits and spectres and reveals a list of things to pay attention to provided by the science-based ASSAP. Accordig to these experts, you are at risk of being haunted if you "see apparitions, hear weird sounds, smell odd odors, feel "cold spots" within a room, notice objects that have been moved or observe your pet acting agitated." Having a toddler and a newborn in my house, I can personally attest to having experienced several of these warning signs recently but Conger and ASSAP can keep their digital video cameras and infrared thermometers to themselves. I'll stick to reality and base any concerns on properly performed studies. It's a heck of a lot more interesting, and considerably less likely to waste my time and energy.
"Damn kids these days with their walk mans and their video cassettes," 82-year-old crotchety physician and lead researcher Mort Fishman explained. "Maybe if they spent a little less time lollygagging and a little more time putting in a hard day's work we wouldn't be in this mess. And a haircut wouldn't hurt neither!"
The study, which will be published in the peer-reviewed Annals of Applied Cantankery this Tuesday, is already stirring up controversy amongst senior scientists like Everglades University Department of General Surliness chair Maynard Gribble. "I think this study, which is flawed in a number of ways, fails to take into consideration the reams of data pointing towards the popularity of all music made after 1944 as the source of today's financial difficulties."
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
by Spooner Jenkins
I decided to take the opportunity of the few days off made necessary by the need to clear the Mayor's office of badger carcasses to do some hard thinking about the current state of affairs. This country is a mess. Just yesterday Agnes and I sat on the front porch for our lunch. It was 55 degrees here in Belvidere, 2006 Top American City and home to 98 of the nicest folk in all of Southern Nebraska, as we watched some local kids rolling doobies and discussed global warming. Now I typically don't approve of drug use because it doesn't support the American farmer but they said they grew it themselves. It sure was cool out. Chilly even. Take that NASA and The Weather Channel!
These days kids don't have any purpose. Not in Belvidere though. There's nothing like the fear of being torn to ribbons by a roving band of mutant opposable thumbed turkeys to set a boy straight. Other than widespread indoctrination against people different from them perhaps. But then again that also just boils down to fear. Fear is good. Fear is the chum that provides sustenance for our insatiable desire to control our environment, whether it is what people should be allowed to believe, or not to believe; what we do behind closed doors, and who we do it with; or who is allowed to reap the bountiful harvest that democracy and George W. Bush have provided us.
We ended our evening talk, and finished up our roast beef and spiced rum turnips. I took one long pause to take the beauty of this fair city in. There were no homicidal turkeys or irregular sheep in sight, and the incessant din of the last of the Autumn weevils as they devoured the few remaining shreds of plant life was a cacophony of delight. A small latino boy ate ice cream next to a rusty old jungle gym, and an old man licked mustard from the corner of his mouth before heading back towards the bus station located just down the street from our house.
There is just one bus that services the town of Belvidere and it's never late. Some of the folks around town say it is haunted but rarely do they agree on just who or what the ghostly spectre is that walks up and down the path between the seats, always stopping at the thick white line placed just prior to the driver's seat. I've always had a thing for ghost stories and I suddenly decided that it was time to see for myself if this one was true.
The bus pulled up at a quarter past one and unloaded a motley assortment of passengers. A thin boy of about 7 or 8 jumped off the bus from the top step, biting his lower lip as he landed. He screamed in a mix of suprise and pain. I couldn't help but laugh at him and I immediately felt ashamed for doing so. A woman older than me by many years, maybe in her 90's, was helped off by two young men in baseball uniforms. One had a limp and a streak of blood trailing down his pants which originated at a large tear in the fabric just above his right knee.
"Did you at least win the game son?", I asked.
"What game?", the boy muttered as he ran off, the elderly woman now safely sitting on a nearby bench.
A few more folks, one of which was obviously drunk, exited the bus and headed their own seperate ways. Perhaps to their home or a local pub. I can't say for sure. Finally a beautiful young woman in a Dairy Queen uniform stepped down onto the curb from the lower step. I thought of Agnes immediately. Not because Agnes was a very a beautiful woman mind you, or young, but because the eyes were the same and the fact that Agnes had always dreamed of opening a Dairy Queen. A young man, equally attractive but missing an ear, ran up as if to embrace her. She pushed his arms down and looked nervously around. I couldn't make out the exact words as they walked towards Grimp's Hotel, but I know the look of an angry woman when I see one.
As the crowd dispersed I noticed the old woman again, still sitting quietly on her bench. After placing the remains of my lunch in a large metal bin I joined her.
"How's turnips?", I asked. "How's Turnips" being a common greeting in Southern Nebraska. Historians and etymologists have argued over the origin of the phrase with estimates ranging from the early 18th century to June of 2007.
"Turnips up, turnips down.", she replied as is the custom.
"More up than down I hope.", I said with a hearty laugh. She smiled, taking out a cigarette from her plain brown leather purse.
"Oh I don't smoke 'em so put your eyes back in your head holes!", the woman spat before placing a single unfiltered Pall Mall in her mouth. She began to chew vigorously.
"So what do you know about that bus? She really haunted?" I inquired.
"Yes. That bus is haunted. I'll tell you about it if you got the time. You got the time young fella?"
I nodded my consent.
"Cigarette young man?", the old woman asked through her tobacco spittle moistened lips.
The thought of making a meal out of her offering of a bent Pall Mall made my stomach turn but I was intrigued at her offer to relate the tale of the town's haunted mass transit vehicle and I didn't want to offend her simple country sensibilities. I fought back a vigorous gag as I placed the cigarette in my mouth and began to chew. My entire body recoiled from the experience and I gave in to the overwhelming urge to vomit.
"Don't worry, happens to everyone their first time son. It'll pass.", she explained as she placed a wrinkled and swollen jointed hand on my shoulder.
"Why.....would you.......do......that!", I exclaimed, each burst of speech quickly interrupted by waves of nausea and belly cramps.
"Why does the snake shed its skin? Why do bees make honey? Why do my canned beats grow fur if I let 'em set too long with the top off the jar?", she cackled, revealing her one shiny brown tooth.
She must have noticed the shift of my gaze from the ground to her isolated incisor because her smile widened with pride as she exclaimed, "That's my eatin tooth!" I couldn't help but chuckle at her lust for the experiences life provides. I wondered if I would find such joy in the years to come. My newfound vigor began to subside as I pondered my old age.
I believe that she sensed the drop in my spirits. Perhaps to cheer me up she began to spin the tale of Fairbury's haunted bus. Time stopped for us as she told her story, breaking every once in a while to place a fresh Pall Mall into her mouth. Once she paused for several seconds, seeming not to breath. I thought that perhaps this was in order so that she might remember her place in the telling but I worried that she might have died. She smiled and reassured me that she had only needed a moment to let some demons out the back door.
The old woman was 11 when the Fairbury bus first began to make its run in 1927. It was much shinier back then, and had a good deal more vim as it carried passengers around town. The townfolk appreciated it for its cleanliness and for its convenience, and it was packed from sun up to sun down. That was until the first death.
By the time that the Fairbury bus had completed its first six months, nine people had died in or under it. Their deaths were sensless and unexplainable tragedies:
1. Tank Ragland Sr. was crushed to death by the hood while investigating a strange noise seemingly coming from the engine. A thorough investigation by the town mechanic found no reason for the prop to have given way. Tank was an experienced mechanic himself and would have certainly engaged it.
2. Steve Delacroix was decapitated by the bus while waiting to cross a city street. The right side panel stop sign activated as the bus drove by, catching Steve's head at 50 miles per hour. It rolled down to McTaggart's Ice Cream Parlor and settled in some nearby bushes. According to bus driver Dell Watts there is absolutely no explanation for how the sign extended as it required several turns of a crank which only the driver has access to.
3. Fergie Nixon was crushed to death by the bus as she attempted to retrieve a quarter that had rolled beneath it. The engine has been turned off and driver Dell Watts was on break taking a nap in one of the seats. He claims that the bus lurched forward and then backward several times before settling. The parking break was engaged.
4. Meacus Banner, town mechanic, died of carbon monoxide poisoning while taking a nap inside the bus which was parked inside his closed garage. An experienced mechanic such as Meacus would not have slept inside an idling vehicle parked in a closed garage.
5. Dirk Harris, City Comptroller, was killed while crossing a city street. Driver Dell Watts was unable to stop the bus. A thorough investigation found no defect in the break line or other reason for why the bus not only couldn't be stopped but also continued to accelerate into Comptroller Harris.
6, 7, 8, 9. Siblings Susan, Rod, Siggy, and Lewis Latimer, known around town as the Latimer Bunch, died while taking the bus to a rehearsal for an upcoming church play. Driver Dell Watts became worried when he no longer heard their voices and found their lifeless bodies when he stopped the bus to check on the children. Medical professionals were unable to discover a cause of death.
After the death of the Latimer Bunch, the town bus was decomissioned but once again called into service during World War Two when the replacement bus was confiscated by the army and made into artillery shells. By this time many had forgotten, or refused to remember, the grissly deaths involving the old bus and to this day no further unexplained tragedies have occured.
Many townspeople claim to feel a ghostly presence while riding on the bus. There are many reports of unexplained screams, temperature changes, and even the occasional sighting of shadowy figures either within or near the bus at night. But the many years that have passed since those tragic events in 1927 have led most folks to deny that they ever really existed. Now the bus has become a tourist attraction and a source of only mild interest to the citizens of Fairbury.
The old woman finished her story, and her last Pall Mall, just as the sun was beginning to disappear behind the horizon.
"Well that's my last cigarette, and that is my story young man. I only ask that you take to heart the events that befell this town. I'm the only one left who was there and who experienced the terror. And I'm not long for this world. Sometimes I feel as if the world has left me behind already. Not everything in life has a reason or an explanation. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And nobody wants to be forgotten."
With that I left the old woman on her bench and headed back towards my car. A few minutes later I realized that I had forgotten to ask her name. I returned to the bench, the bus about which we had spent the better part of seven hours discussing having returned, only to find her perch empty. The driver, whose last name was Watts according to the cursive stitching on the left breast pocket of his uniform, was leaning against the side of the vehicle. The glow of his cigarette stood out in the failing light of the evening.
I inquired about the old woman but was met only with a blank stare.
"I saw you sittin on that bench as I pulled up and you weren't talkin to no old woman. I think you been out in the sun to long today pops.", he shared.
I wished him a good evening and headed back towards my car. It was late and I was starving. I lamented the fact that Agnes would be again be staying overnight in Strang to attend a pupil's piano recital. It is remarkable how many young boys and girls are interested in piano lessons in Strang, and how many recitals they have in that strange town. Before my thoughts could begin to wander, I heard a man's voice calling after me.
"Sir! Wait up!", the young bus driver shouted.
He approached, out of breath and sweating profusely.
"It was Susan....Susan Latimer. I found this on the bench and I just couldn't help myself so I read it. I must have just missed her or something I guess. I don't recognize the name anyhow and I pretty much know everybody 'round this shitsplat town. Here, take it."
He handed me a small folded piece of paper and ran back to his idling bus. I lifted up one half of the note and quickly read the brief message.
"Nobody wants to be forgotten.
That night, as I struggled to find sleep, I thought of something the old woman told me. Not everything in life has a reason or an explanation. I thought long and hard about that and promised to myself that I wouldn't forget.
Monday, October 13, 2008
"We are excited about the road this company is taking," Focus Brands Inc. CEO Steve Romaniello explained. "The average American is sick and tired of both the complexities of the current banking environment and the its lack of oversized cinnamon flavored pastries."
With hundreds of locations in malls, airports, theme parks, and military bases across the country, Romaniello believes that Cinnabanks will make an immediate impact on financial markets. "Our Cinnabon Classic cinnamon roll, combined with the convenient locations of our existing infrastructure and minimal banking fees, is just the kind of comfort food that our failing economy needs to bolster investment confidence and restore stability on Wall Street. Plus every new checking account comes with a free 9-pack of Minibons and a MochaLatta Chill."
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Remember when presidential debates used to mean something? I do. I remember watching Warren Harding walk right over to Ohio Governor James M. Cox in 1920 and punch him in the groin. Those were the good old days I guess, before rebuttal time limits and strict no-nudity policies. When Herbert Hoover proudly waved his genitals in the face of Democratic candidate Alfred E. Smith and his call for the repeal of the Volstead Act, we knew that America truly was the home of the free. At least it was that day back in 1928, the last year during which any decent music was made.
These days people already have their minds made up. They just listen to what their candidate says and they ignore what the other might say against it. They don't remember the way it used to be, when the audience at presidential debates were allowed to join in, be it to ask an insightful question, point out a candidate's hypocrisy, or just to shoot at their feet to make them dance in fear. Now we just sit back and wait to be told what to think by the mainstream media and their talking heads.
Now I'm not saying that the long tradition of presidential canditates coming together to discuss important topics, like the economy or whether or not homosexuals should be allowed to visit other homosexuals in hospitals, is completely useless. I just don't think that the current methods allow for the American people to gain a full grasp of each candidate's platform so that they might make a truly informed decision come November 4th. And just a few simple adjustments, like loosening restrictions on taser usage during closing statements, would help reverse the trend of these debates toward obsolescence.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
It's Time to Pull Out Your Money Folks
By Willingsby Chesterfield III
Chief Financial Officer of Unlock Your Car, Inc
Despite what the many naive and confused optimists in the media, and on Capital Hill, want you to believe, the stock market is going down in flames and threatening to bring the entire American economy down with it. Yes sir, it is time to call it quits in my humble opinion.
Now you know I like to call 'em like I see 'em, and if you ask old Willingsby for his two cents, well you just might hear about the only straight talk going around these days. Old Willingsby says it is high time to abandon this sinking ship, you know the one with too many holes in the hull and nowhere near enough buckets to bail it out of complete and total economic destruction. It's bad out there folks, it's real bad. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome bad.
So what does this all mean for John. Q. Public? Well listen up if you want to avoid being reduced to huddling around a pig feces powered generator for warmth at night and battling for food and reproduction rights in gladiatorial to-the-death combat during the day. Head over to the nearest branch of your banking institution right this minute and get your hands on as much cash as you can. The time for worrying about 401Ks and 403Bs is past, and the time to hoard anything of monetary value is upon us. Find some land in the middle of nowhere, bury it all, and pray that you somehow survive the coming apocalypse.
Looks Who's Laughing Now
By Chet Jenkins
Laughing Meadow Alpaca Farm
For years people have scorned alpaca farming. They have called it a scam, a pipe dream for gullible folks looking to make easy money. Many so-called experts have likened alpaca farming to a multi-level marketing scheme or have blamed the alpaca for many of society's problems, ranging from the obesity epidemic to teen pregnancy. Well America, who is laughing now? Me, and the gentle alpaca.
As the economy continues crumbling before our eyes, people are going to realize that the loving and docile alpaca, a cousin of the llama prized for its luxurious fleece by a small cottage industry of artisans in some countries, is a sound investment for the future. For as little as $40,000, you can hitch a ride on the alpaca express, which is pulled by alpacas in a figurative sense secondary to a bone structure which does not allow them to serve any useful purpose in that regard, but you get what I mean. It's all about the alpacas, God bless 'em!
But with alpacas, it isn't just about huge profits. And by profits, I am taking into account the subjectively assigned monetary value of the love you will feel for these majestic creatures. More alpacas equals more love, and that is the kind of security that will keep you feeling secure despite what might or might not be imploding on Wall Street. So call me today at Laughing Meadow Alpaca Farm in Stephenville. If you act now, you can buy all of my alpacas.
Monday, September 29, 2008
"The customer service lady was totally not interested in my phone call," Thriftwhistle explained. "She put me on hold three times, and when she finally talked to me all she did was try to convince me to subscribe to the full week of papers, as if her only goal was to get more money out of me. I just want the Sunday paper. Don't you understand, I just want the Sunday paper!"
Thriftwhistle is calling for a boycott of the town paper until improvements in customer service are made. "I'd like to know that my call is important to them, is that so wrong? How about having a recording tell me that in a pleasant female voice while I'm on hold? But not just once either. I'd like to be reminded every twenty to thirty seconds. Also, I'd like to have the conversation recorded so that future customer service represenatives might benefit from it as a learning tool."
But company leadership doesn't appear to be concerned. "Frankly I just don't see what the fuss is all about," Daily Inquisitor owner Maynard Hearst explained. "So what if we don't think your call is important? I didn't get to be where I am, running a newspaper in a town of over thirty-five thousand people for nearly eight decades, worrying about customer service."
Hearst, who will turn 97-years-old this month, has lived through a number of minor skirmishes with the readership over the years. "Oooh, what are they going to do? The internet? Let's see them just try and get their news, sports and weather all from the internet. They won't last a week and neither will this internet, whatever that is. It's some kind of telegraph service right?"
Friday, September 26, 2008
The way I found this article was by clicking on the image of a dripping syringe next to the words "Do Childhood Vaccines Do More Harm Than Good?" prominently placed on the home page of the KSHB-TV website. Clearly this was a purposeful attempt at fear mongering to drum up readers. I guess a report titled "Vaccines: They Really Help People and Are Extremely Safe" wouldn't draw too many people in. If these reporters were worth their salt, they would include anecdotes from the parents who didn't lose their children to vaccine preventable illnesses like Haemophilus meningitis or Poliomyelitis, and who were satisfied with their children being vaccinated. There certainly are a heck of a lot more of them out there than the small minority of folks who have drunk the anti-vaccine kool-aid. But maybe just leaving anecdotes out of health and science reporting alltogether would be best.
After reading this report, all that many readers will take home is the sad story about a little boy damaged by vaccines and that vaccines might not be safe for their child. Some of them are the people that don't understand the useless nature of uncontrolled anecdotes or the fallacy of post hoc reasoning, or that are merely looking for powerful stories to support their already deeply held conviction. Some may not even read the entire article or even dismiss the discussion of the benefit of immunizations out of hand. All a conspiracy they'll mutter. It's clear to me that these bullshit pieces of pseudojournalism aren't helping anyone though. They are spreading the contagion of anti-vaccination belief, something which has already led to illness and death that was entirely preventable.
The most telling quote comes from the autistic child's mother. She explains that "The timing was too coincidental to ignore and I definitely believe in my heart the vaccinations triggered his autism,". There isn't anything someone like me, or even Paul Offit himself, could ever tell this woman that would convince her otherwise. At least it isn't very likely. And while I don't blame this poor grieving mother for being ill-equipped to critically wrap her brain around her child's diagnosis, I do blame the media for using her situation for the manipulation of readers via another's loss. Her story isn't news and we don't need to know about it. It serves no purpose other than to mislead and confuse.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
There are two problems regarding celebrity opinion. One is that the media presents such opinion as newsworthy, inflating its legitimacy and confusing it with something akin to expert testimony. The other is that the American public generally expresses interest in what these celebrities have to say about topics that are often far outside the scope of what they can claim expertise in. And even when we know it's bullshit, we still eat up steaming piles of celebrity blather with gusto on a daily basis. Take, for instance, yesterday's revelation in an Associated Press story that Nicole Kidman believes in the existence of magical Australian waterfalls that promote fertility.
Kidman welcomed her first child with singer Keith Urban into the world on July 7, 2008. Roughly nine months prior to this occasion she was on location in the Australian Outback filming the soon to be released epic movie Australia. Kidman believes that there has to be more to her pregnancy than the obvious fact that it is intimately related to her having had sex with her husband during ovulation. She is 41 and the pregnancy was unexpected, six other women who swam in the magic waterfalls near Kununurra, a small town in northwestern Australia, during production got pregnant, and of the seven babies only one was a boy. According to the lovely and talented, if not skeptically minded Kidman, "There is something up there in the Kununurra water because we all went swimming in the waterfalls, so we can call it the fertility waters now."
I'm just a humble skeptic, with no claims of expertise in the epidemiology of fertility, but I am sure that Kidman is not the first somewhat older woman to unexpectedly become pregnant. A quick online search revealed that women at Kidman's age have a 44% chance of becoming pregnant and going on to celebrate a live birth within one year of trying, and 64% will do so within four years. Those numbers aren't great, especially if you are one of the greater than 50% that may be increasingly frustrated with a lack of success, but they aren't bad. Of course, Kidman isn't an epidemiologist or a fertility specialist either. She is a human. An incredibly sexy human. But her preternatural attractiveness doesn't protect her from committing the same errors in thinking that plague us regular folk.
In this case, Kidman has fallen prey to one of the most common logical fallacies around, and one which lies at the heart of a variety of mistaken beliefs ranging from psychic powers to claims of effectiveness by proponents of unproven medical treatments. Post hoc reasoning, more formally known as the post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this therefore because of this) fallacy, occurs when a temporal relationship is confused for a causal one. Just because B follows A doesn't mean that A caused B. It could only be a coincidence, or there may be many factors at play with A only serving a minor role in causing B.
Typically unique experiences benefit from this logical fallacy the most, such as a novel treatment for an illness or a memorable dream of something bad happening. Many herbal supplements and homeopathic remedies achieve word-of-mouth success because they are advertised with claims of treating self-limited maladies like viral illnesses. As I tell my students, you can take [insert OTC supplement] to cure your cold and feel better in a week, or do nothing and feel better in seven days. What personal claims of effectiveness of a treatment, or of getting pregnant after taking a swim, amount to are uncontrolled anecdotes. We don't know what would have happened had Kidman not gone for a swim. It's very likely she would still be celebrating the birth of her daughter, only instead of the magic Australian water she would be praising something else entirely for its fertility boosting effects. Perhaps a new food she ate or a mud bath.
But as it stands right now, it is only a matter of nanoseconds before someone is selling magical Australian fertility water by the bottle, or arranging for fertility boosting baths under the waterfalls. People with too much money, and not enough critical thinking skills, will fly there at great expense to improve the health of their uterus. Somebody is going to get rich off of this, and a lot of desperate women are going to throw good money down the drain.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
What mysterious entities are unlikely to be revealed within the LHC?
A. The ever-elusive chiropractic subluxation, or more specifically the complex of functional and/or structural and/or pathological articular changes that compromise neural integrity and may influence organ system and general health. Despite not actually being proven to exist yet, it is theorized by some experts that the subluxation may account for most of the money in the chiropractor's bank account.
B. Water memory. Theorized by homeopathic scientists, who seem to employ reasoning skills diluted beyond measurement, homeopathic remedies are said to be able to benefit from the healing powers of a substance no longer contained within them. A liberal pilfering of scientific terms, like quantum and vibration, has become standard practice for those defending water memory.
C. Human energy. This undetectable phenomenon is claimed to be at the bottom of pretty much all medical maladies, and just needs the gentle touch, or non-touch in most instances, of a qualified human energy manipulator to straighten out. Western science, with its pesky and cumbersome methodological naturalism just hasn't been able to isolate this wonderous whatever yet, but perhaps soon the time will come for healing touch and reiki practitioners to put use their ability to do work celebrating.
D. Bigfoot. Cryptozoologists have looked everywhere else.
E. All of the above
Thursday, September 18, 2008
"Our preliminary estimate shows approximately 765 bears in northwestern Montana alone," explained lead researcher Katherine Kendall. "There have been some huge investments of time and money towards this recovery, and legislation that restricts hunting and development into grizzly habitats have helped immensely, but a large amount of the credit belongs to the work done to help integrate them into society."
5 years ago, ursine social worker Jonel Thaller took on the arduous task of finding jobs and accomodations for hundreds of grizzly bears in Kalispell, which is the closest city to Glacier National Park. Years of strained human-bear relations, and a reputation of having anger management difficulties, have made it exceedingly difficult for these majestic beasts to find employment, especially in densely populated areas. But last year, after fast food giant McDonald's became the first of several eateries to relax their restrictions on hiring bears, things finally began to look up. "It's been a long and difficult road to get where we are today," Thaller revealed. "But finally people are beginning to see that the grizzly bear, if properly medicated and in the presence of armed professionals at all times, can make an positive impact on the service industry."
Thaller, who touches base with restaurant managers on a daily basis for updates on her clients, says that the bears have led to big improvements in food quality and customer satisfaction. "Complaints are down, wait times are noticeably shorter, and even former problem human employee are shaping up when grizzlies are allowed to do what they do best, which is interacting with people and food in enclosed spaces." But Thaller points out that their success might not last forever. "All it would take is for one bear to devour a family for this to fall apart."
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
The findings, based on telephone surveys of over thirty thousand men and women over the age of eighteen, are sending shockwaves through the medical community. "The dramatic rise in the number of adults turning to shampoo commercials to update themselves on chronic medical conditions, disease prevention strategies, and even information on when to seek acute care, is alarming," explained lead investigator Dr. Mort Fishman. "I'd love to be able to learn how to have shiny, lustrous hair, and how to manage Type 2 Diabetes in one convenient place as much as the next physician, but I don't trust patient care to Pert Plus or Garnier Fructis."
The shampoo industry, who had received word of the report prior to the official announcement, isn't rolling over. A. G. Lafley, CEO of Procter and Gamble, has already issued a press release attempting to counter some of the statements made by the NCSU researchers regarding the legitimacy of health information acquired from shampoo commercials. "You know, it seems like our information was good enough when Pantene practically wrote the book on the cardiovascular sequelae of atherosclerotic renal disease, or when Clairol Herbal Essences discovered the link between the BRCA1 gene and breast cancer. This is just a bitter bald guy trying to make a name for himself with flimsy evidence and poor reasoning."
Saturday, September 13, 2008
"We're going to revolutionize the infant formula market with our new Baby Red Bull Extreme," company founder Dietrich Mateschitz explained. "Parents are sick and tired of infant formulas that don't provide vital substances that have been lost by their babies during times of increased mental and physical exertion, while also reducing harmful substances. With Baby Red Bull Extreme energy formula, which comes in both powder and ready to feed varieties, you get both!"
But helping young humans to maximize their concentration and reaction speed is only one aspect of Mateschitz's plan. "My goal is for all babies around the world to benefit from our scientific advancements in energy formulas. Every single one. Only then will humanity reach its true potential as shepherds of our Mother Earth!"
According to the Baby Red Bull Extreme website, their formulation has been scientifically designed to be as similar to human breast milk as possible, with a few additions that Mateschitz claims add up to more than the sum of their parts. "Sure breast is best, if it's all that is available. Like if you are in some kind of depressing third world country or something like that. But only Baby Red Bull Extreme provides these growing children with the taurine, glucuronolactone, caffeine, acesulfame K and aspartame that their bodies need on a daily basis."
Infant nutrition experts have expressed concern regarding the addition of infant energy formulas, like Baby Red Bull Extreme, to a child's diet. Farahilde Obermoser, a pediatric clinical nutritionist at Rot Stier General Hospital in Vienna believes that a diet consisting of a significnat amount of Baby Red Bull Extreme infant energy formula might not be the right choice for some families. "Sure we would all like for our babies to achieve their full genetic potential, and they definitely would on this formula, but not all parents love their children enough to make sure that happens. And not every parent is cool enough."
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Which of the following survival strategies have also been put into use by members of the animal kingdom?
A. The ability of antivaccinationists to quickly move goalposts in response to contradictory evidence, thus protecting their irrational belief system.
B. The technique, used by proponents of implausible and unproven diagnostic and therapeutic modalities, of confusing the general public with marketing terms like "alternative" and "holistic" while distracting academic medical institutions with claims of popularity as they slip quietly through the back door to sneak away with ill-gained legitimacy.
C. The capability of Intelligent Design proponents to use state legislatures to pass "academic freedom" laws in order to more easily indoctrinate young minds and help to ensure their continued existence.
D.All of the above
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
"I may be just a simple small town hockey mom, but I love the environment and I love America!" Palin declared while addressing the crowd of nearly thirty thousand supporters. "And I promise you that I will put the full weight of the White House behind saving our precious ecosystems and protecting the American people!"
Palin plans to propose an amendment to the United States Constitution that would make it legal for hunters to employ aerial-hunting tactics to thin the number of predators in regions with endangered species such as moose and caribou. It will also include the use of tactical nuclear weapons to protect Alaskan towns from roving gangs of bloodthirsty polar bears.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Today, WSMV Nashville brings us a brief report and an accompanying video covering the discovery of a "mysterious" footprint by a retired builder from Cookeville, Tennessee. The footprint, which is claimed by owner Harold Jackson to be thousands of years old, is a mess that barely resembles something made by a hominid species. There is the faint outline of what could be toes, and an indentation that appears to be a heal, but the whole thing might very easily be just another example of pareidolia. I think it is of too poor a quality to be a hoax but that is also a consideration. And though the report qualifies Jackson as an amateur archaeologist, he is quoted saying that he doesn't "know anything about archaeology or anything".
The title of the report, "Scientists Interested In Large Footprint Discovery", hardly counts as news, but in this day and age, where outlets jump at any fluff piece involving pseudoscience or the paranormal, it isn't too suprising. Nor is the fact that the only scientist specifially named as being interested in the discovery is oft quoted Dr. Jeffrey Meldrum, whose skeptical take on the recent Bigfoot corpse hoax was paraded around the news circuit as if it was some kind of unique opinion that required being a "Bigfoot expert" to hold, and whose best evidence for the existence of the creature is the argument ad populi that so many outdoorsmen and hunters can't all be wrong. Yes, Meldrum is a skeptic like Larry King is a skeptic and he employs critical thinking in regards to Bigfoot like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did to fairies. Besides, calling oneself a scientific expert on a fictional entity is dubious at best, even if you have a PhD in anatomy to go along with your doctorate in confirmation bias.
The report sinks even lower into pseudojournalism when it is revealed, as if it is in some way meaningful, that Channel 4 has yet to even speak with Meldrum, or to reach Tennessee state archaeologist Nick Fielder for comment on the footprint. It isn't news that you didn't talk to somebody. You don't get credit for not doing your job when it comes to reporting. I have no doubt that lots of famous and important people are interested in whether or not Bigfoot exists, and many reputable scientists would be qualified to discuss this finding, but just mentioning the name of one is obviously thrown in to lend more credibility to this worthless bit of fluff.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
"We decided to finally approach the question of haunted large intestines scientifically because of the piles of anecdotal evidence we've accumulated over the years," explained Bruce Sagemiller, Project Leader of the Ohio based Paranormal Medical Research Group and expert in electronic voice phenomena (EVP)."We were suprised to find out how widespread this problem actually is, and our results have raised a lot of interesting questions."
A certified Clinical Borborygmologist, Sagemiller started by designing an airtight, skeptic proof study. "The results of so many studies are ignored because of closed-minded attacks on the methodology and I didn't want to suffer the same fate." After using the standard paranormal investigation randomization technique of throwing darts at a phone book while blindfolded to identify the study population, Dr. Sagemiller made use of two seperate but equally valid techniques to diagnose the presence of any phantoms or specters within the colon: cyber-dowsing and EVP.
Team psychic and cyber-dowser Amanda Sentelle started by running her hand-bent wire dowsing rod back and forth over a computer monitor while each participant's Facebook or MySpace profile was visible on the screen. She was then able to interpret the subtle movements of the wire, weeding out subjects with clear colons. The second stage involved recording sounds eminating from the remaining subjects abdomens and analyzing them for the presence of ghostly messages from beyond the ileocecal valve. After this confirmation, statistical analyses led to the study conclusion that three out of four Americans have a haunted colon.
Sagemiller is now attempting to make sense of the findings. "We don't know why these spirits have chosen to dwell in our large intestines. We just don't know what, if anything, they want from us. We do suspect that their presence may play a role in a host of medical ailments, such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, and painful gas." A follow-up study looking at the potential benefit of exorcism in the treatment of these conditions is already underway.
Monday, September 1, 2008
The young physician was convinced of the efficacy of this dangerous and thoroughly useless endeavor. She had seen the results with her own eyes and she had felt the relief from her headaches that the procedure had provided. And despite all of my best efforts to explain in detail how easy it is for us to be fooled into thinking that a treatment works when it doesn't, and how ear candling has been shown time and time again to be ineffective and unsafe as well as completely devoid of any plausible mechanism of action, she remained stalwart in her conviction that she had reaped the benefits.
Such belief despite a lack of evidence and plausibility is concerning to me. My fear is that if a medical professional is able to disregard critical reasoning and accept such foolishness as ear candling, then that individual may also come to see other, perhaps even more dangerous, forms of quackery as legitimate and recommend them to their patients. There are already countless proponents of snake oil and flim flam at work in the world pushing bogus therapies like chiropractic and naturopathy, many of which include ear candling in their repertoire. A number of these trick and treaters place an MD after their name, and never fail to take advantage of the increased clout that fact brings despite also often attempting to establish a false dichotomy between so-called alternative medicine and science-based practice.
In my online research, done for the advancement of my critical reasoning skills despite the inevitable and near overwhelming sense of doom such activity typically leads to, I have perused hundreds of websites touting the positive health effects resulting from ear candling. The most recent, wwwDOTearcandlingDOTcom, reveals that "For thousands of years, a form of hygiene known as Ear Candling, was used as a way of naturally cleansing the inside of the ears and head." The claim of cleansing inside the head was something I had not heard before however.
According to the website, which is run by Sharon Caren, a massage therapist with a knack for clearing your soul (for a price), "It is believed as the candle burns, gentle warm smoke is drawn into the ear canal that softens and loosens candida, wax, and other debris through osmosis. This means anything on the other side of the eardrum turns into a gas form to pass through the ear drum membrane. It is then collected into the remaining unburned portion of the candle." Caren, a certified ear hygienist, goes on to state that ear candling can be enjoyed by infants and dates back centuries to ancient Greece where it was responsible for laying the foundation of Western civilization. Okay, I made that last part up.
Comical pseudohistory aside, these claims are dangerous and quite absurd. Even if accurate, there simply is no need for the overwhelming majority of folks to worry about earwax. One of the first medical maxims I learned as a student was to never place anything in one's ear smaller than one's elbow, and that includes Q-tips. It simply isn't necessary, despite what our mothers told us, for the overwhelming majority of people to clean out their ears. If you are truly interested in the diagnosis and management of cerumen impaction, please by all means check out the clinical guidelines recently released by the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS). It's a real page-turner.
The second dictum I learned was to never poke the skunk. This usually applies to ordering uneccessary labs and imaging studies but it also applies to ear candling. If you only need to know the serum sodium, you shouldn't check a basic metabolic profile because you can put good money on that potassium coming back falsely elevated, buying the patient another blood draw to confirm the result as spurious. Similarly, if a procedure isn't going to help don't do it, especially if it carries with it the risk of dripping hot wax onto the tympanic membrane, deafness, or burning your house down.
The devices aren't FDA approved and just about every legitimate medical organization has spoken out against them. Multiple studies have shown that ear candling doesn't create negative pressure, as theorized by proponents, doesn't remove ear wax or anything else from inside the ear (or sinus cavities), doesn't in any way lead to improved health or a boosted immune system, and is dangerous. Any residue left over after a session is the melted wax from the apparatus itself and nothing more. But at up to 18o dollars per session, that sense of emptiness in your wallet is probably very real.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Courtesy of KLTV 7 News via CNN, we are all now painfully aware of the existence of a moth that bears upon its back the image of everybody's favorite 2,000 year-old zombie carpenter. At least that is what it looks like to Pittsburgh, TX believer Kirk Harper. Naturally he is excited because he has apparantly only seen Jesus before on grilled cheese sandwiches and greasy windowpanes.
I do see it what the fuss is all about but this example of pareidolia looks to me much more like a certain character from a popular science fiction series than any religion's deity.
Of course, if somebody notified the local news about a moth that resembled Worf they would have been laughed at. "Call us back when you've got some real news!", they might say. Like a crop circle or the unvetted press release about something that is going to kill us all. Non-religious pareidolia rarely gets a fair shake these days. And it certainly won't sell for 30 grand on eBay. But would it kill people to be at least try to be a little more creative instead of just hollering Jebus every time something they are about to eat, or that they found stuck on their windshield, looks like a face.
Monday, August 25, 2008
The Economy is Doing Just Fine Folks
By Willingsby Chesterfield III
Chief Financial Officer of Unlock Your Car, Inc
Despite what many doom-and-gloom naysayers in the media want you to believe, the economy is doing pretty good considering the events that have taken place over the past year. In fact, it's weathered the failure of the subprime market and weakening American dollar with grace and aplomb. Yes sir, the economy is doing just fine folks.
I like to think of the economy as a fine, full-figured gal with legs that go all the way up and more sass than you can shake a stick at. Sure she may be a little shy at first, but with just a little bit of sweet talk, maybe a glass of wine and a ride in my Dodge Stratus, she'll take good care of you. Don't give up on the girl, am I right?
I know what you're thinking sport. You've got a shovel in one hand and your nest egg in the other, ready to squirrel your hard earned cashola away somewhere safe. But it isn't safe, not in the ground. You've got to spend to save is what my pop used to say. So the next time some Joe Palooka starts telling you how bad the economy is, remember what old Willingsby told ya.
It's Getting Harder to Sell My Babies on eBay
I can remember the days when a woman could make a respectable living selling their babies on eBay. Now you can't barely get enough to keep the electric on and the water running. Times has changed.
Some people try to tell me that it's because people don't need no babies off of eBay anymore cause of this in the vitro fertilizing that they can do. I reckon if people were having ten, twenty babies at a time they wouldn't need to go buying no babies off of eBay. But I don't see people walking around with that many kids at the Walmart or at the Arby's.
No, I think that people just don't have the kind of money to spare in this economy. When you can't afford to buy smokes, how could you affort no babies off of eBay. Unless I lower my prices again and I promised my dogs I wouldn't do that again.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
"We've put the girls through some pretty rigorous testing and they all fit the Olympic age requirements for gymnastics," IOC assistant to the travelling secretary Odin Needlemeyer explained. "In fact, many of their motorized parts date back to the 1980's, with uneven bar gold medal winner He Kexin containing several gears, and an internal gyrostabilizer, that were invented twenty years before that."
Though this mystery is now solved, the number of investigations being demanded by participating countries continue to rise according to IOC President Count Jacques Rogge. "Thankfully the question of underage Chinese gymnasts has been settled. Next up, we are going to look into Micronesian allegations that Michael Phelps is a hybrid fishman sent from the future to prevent some kind of catastrophe, possibly involving killer whales."
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
With the aid of a heater, a team of "researchers" from Searching for Bigfoot Inc. quickly uncovered the truth when a rubber foot emerged from the ice as the frozen alleged corpse thawed. The events are described in detail at their website, Searching For Bigfoot, and would be comical if not for the realization that so many intelligent people were fooled by such shannanigans. But you can't blame Stanford anthropologist Richard Klein for allowing his name to lend credence to the bogus discovery because, according to the CNN article, he wasn't even aware that he had anything to do with the project.
The pair of would be heroes to the Bigfoot community, Matthew Whitton and Rick Dyer, who have since admitted to the body being just a tad more synthetic than they had previously stated, may be in big trouble. Whitton is a police officer for Clayton County in Georgia and should lose his job considering this amounts to fraud since the two did receive an undisclosed amount of money from Searching for Bigfoot Inc. before they would allow an investigation. Now they are skipping talk show appearances and have disconnected their phones, and Biscardi, the man promoting the affair, is ill and his secretary doesn't know when he'll be returning calls. Convenient, isn't it?
The money quote from the linked CNN article comes from Klein, in reference to Biscardi:
That sums it up pretty well.
"He seems like a nice enough guy," Klein said, "but I can't imagine why anyone would devote their lives to proving the existence [of Bigfoot]. Anything has a remote chance of being true, but there is virtually no prospect of this animal being real."
Monday, August 18, 2008
Yes, the military is studying mind reading but not in the way you might think. They aren't looking into ESP, remote viewing, or psychokinesis, though they have done that before to the tune of almost thirty million taxpayer dollars, I'm embarrased to admit, with Project Stargate and a 2005 study on psychic teleportation. But it is every bit as much a project based on pseudoscience.
According to a August 15th CNN article, the United States military has granted four million dollars to researchers from the University of California-Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland so that they can attempt to learn how to translate EEG signals into actual words. If successful, the ability to do so would be incalculably valuabe to patients suffering from severe forms of paralysis, especially the dreaded locked-in syndrome, among many other conditions which hamper or prevent communication. But if I wasn't reading about it with my own eyes, I would swear that this was a joke, or something thought up by a participant in a fifth grade school science fair.
In the study, researchers place electrodes on the scalps of volunteers and analyze the electrical activity that results when certain words are thought of. In the process, they hope to be able to match specific patterns to each individual word. It sounds simple enough, and even plausible if you aren't aware of the nature and limitations of EEG readings, but it is in effect not all that different than trying to learn how to speak baby by analyzing their cries.
The problem in this is that EEG output, which primarily comes only from the most superficial layers of the cortex, is nowhere near sensitive enough to allow differentiation of specific patterns associated with single words. It isn't even known if there would be a pattern specific to individual words. Perhaps such a crude means of measuring cortical activity would only provide patterns specific to types of words, like nouns or verbs, or to groupings such as animals or plants. So naturally this would become even more complex and difficult to interpret when attempting to read thoughts made up of longer word groupings, sentences, or mental images.
EEGs are are helpful in giving a general picture of the electrical activity occuring in large groups of neurons, such as when attempting to diagnose a seizure or as an adjunct to a brain death exam, but they are often full of artifacts caused by muscle contractions, eye movements and the electircal activity of the heart. Even if patterns of thought were recognizable in a test subject as reproducibly unique EEG waveforms, there would likely be a great deal of difference between subjects, rendering the technology very cumbersome if not useless. We all have different thought processes and associations with words based on individual experiences. EEG patterns of the word beach might vary greatly depending on if one thinks of the world positively or negatively. This is far too complex to work out as simply as the researchers hope.
Another concern is that there is a long track record of such endeavors not being properly, as in skeptically, approached. This could easily turn into another "Emperor's New Clothes" phenomenon where people falsely claim to be trained in interpreting EEG signals. I can easily imagine this replacing Facilitated Communication (FC) as the in vogue means for parents of children with autism to reveal their hidden intelligence. Then the phony accusations of sexual abuse will inevitably arise. It's not a slipperly slope fallacy because it has happened exactly that way before with FC. What's worse is that FC was easily shown to be only in the mind of the facilitator while EEG mind reading would be much more difficult to disprove to a parent that has already become a believer.
Four millions dollars is a lot of money, and a lot of good could come from the proper investment of it. The military needs a better means of evaluating which projects deserve funding and which should be rejected.
"We need to know that early admission applicants are motivated and capable of handling the responsibility that comes with acceptance to our university," Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust explained. "And the best way that we can think of to find out is by pitting prospective students against each other in a series of contests like who can eat the most wild boar testicles and who can catch the most diseases over a one month period."
The University of Delaware also utilizes such competitions to weed out unworthy applicants for early admission. But in order to better identify those most likely to excel, a final elimination process is employed where students are forced to live together in a small Dover loft for several weeks. At the end of each week, students vote on who should be kicked out of the loft, but at any point in the process a randomly chosen participants may be shot.
Friday, August 15, 2008
They have stored the 7 feet, 7 inch tall 500 pound sasquatch/Halloween costume in their freezer and claim that extensive scientific testing is underway. They believe that they have the evidence to prove the existence of a new species of half-ape, half-man and that the only man to be trusted with handling the situation is Tom Biscardi, a well-known bigfoot hunter. All of this was announced to the world a few weeks ago on an internet radio program, and a follow-up press conference is to be held today.
Unfortunately for the bigfoot enthusiasts out there, this will almost certainly be a hoax. I will of course withhold judgement until all of the evidence is on the table but there are some major red flags. First and foremost is the fact that these gentleman, like the infamous Pons and Fleischmann before them, are using channels that circumvent peer review. They are going straight to the press and making big promises instead of working through reputable researchers to publish their findings in a scientific journal. Any other way of doing things in the world of biology is suspect. It doesn't mean it's bogus, but it don't look good.
And neither does the fact that Biscardi has been involved in a hoax oddly similar to this in the past, as described by Ben Radford in an August 13th LiveScience article. Also suspicious is the announcement by Biscardi that he will be saving the best evidence for his upcoming documentary, which I doubt will be freely distributed to the world. I'm skeptical to say the least, but who knows. The kid in me would love knowing that there are large undiscovered creatures still lurking out there, but I'm not holding my breath.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I watched the video dumbfounded, wondering why these people jumped to the odd conclusion that the creature on film was something that, at least according to Wikipedia, is a "heavy creature, the size of a small bear, with a row of spines reaching from the neck to the base of the tail" that drinks goat blood, may be an alien, and can hop 20 feet at a time. Upon further investigation, I now know that this so-called cryptid, or creature that has been suggested to exist but probably only lives in the cerebrum of lazy minded true believers, has recently been suggested by a minority of chupacabrists to actually be some kind of hairless dog-like reptile.
A year ago, in the small town of Cuero, TX, a woman claimed to have found the head of the "mythical bloodsucking chupacabra" and was keeping it safe in her freezer. She simply wanted to preserve it so that modern science might "get to the bottom of its ancestry through DNA testing" but I'm sure that the 15-minutes of fame and the money she made selling t-shirts to believers all over the world had nothing to do with it. She had to go to the local media to uncover the truth instead of simply contacting a local university's zoology department or similar entity.
But the local media did end up providing a sample to Texas State researchers, who after performing DNA analysis and comparison announced that the "goat sucker" was a coyote, much to the chagrin of the San Antonio news station that financed the testing I'm sure. This information somehow either didn't trickle down to the station broadcasting the new live footage of the "chupacabra" or was just ignored. They act as if the beast is a total mystery and proof of the chupacabra. I guess a coyote with canine scabies (mange) or some other skin disorder wouldn't garner as much attention.