Category: Uncategorized

Bees are not aliens–When real news is not weird enough

This is apparently my day to rag on Chuck Shepherd.

In today’s News of the Weird, Chuck writes, “An ovipositor is the organ that inserts or receives an egg (especially from parasites like bees — and that thing in “Alien”).

Bees are not parasites! They lay their eggs in various structures they make, whether hives, holes in the ground, or holes drilled in wood.

OK, there are a very few bees that are nest parasites, but even they lay their eggs in holes in the ground, not in other organisms as Chuck implies.

(Receives? I’m not familiar with any usage of the term “ovipositor” for an organ that receives eggs.)

I’m pretty sure he was thinking of the various wasps that paralyze a living organism, then lay eggs on/in it, or the wasps that use the ovipositor to insert their eggs into plants, but bees and wasps can’t just be confused like that!

I like Chuck’s column, please don’t take this as a recommendation to avoid. He just knows (apparently) not very much about entomology.

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Best Yet Pseudoscience

I’ve been eating much more healthily lately. Losing weight quite rapidly, to the point where my pants are falling down embarassingly and even the unpleated ones are pleating now when I put on my belt.

Part of that is buying more veggies (and eating them, of course). So I was a regular at the Best Yet Market on my route home. Great selection of produce, reasonable prices, clean, nice staff.

And now I can’t buy from them.

See, while searching for info on blueberry nutrition I came across this page. “Detox With Food!” Yuck.

I’m a scientific skeptic. That implies both that I care about using logic and evidence, and that I know something about common areas of pseudoscience. Detox is pseudoscience.

There are real toxins out there, and medical treatments for some of them. For instance, if a person accidentally drinks ethylene glycol (antifreeze) they can be treated with booze. Ethanol doesn’t remove the antifreeze from the body, but it prevents its toxic events until the toxin is naturally cleared. However, medical and scientific types don’t say “detox”. That’s pseudoscientists. They’re in general talking about toxins they can’t define, which have very non-specific effects, and the levels of which are never measured, making it impossible to demonstrate whether the “detox” or “cleanse” regimen does anything at all. Others demonize non-dangerous toxins like mercury in dental work, use non-authenticated tests like “challenge” urine tests, and interpret the results in ways supported by no science.

Best Yet Market’s web page leads with some utter nonsense: “Did you know that digesting food requires more energy than any other function in the human body?” Yes, I knew that was absolutely false. Let’s ignore actual research and just think for a moment, shall we? Is the article claiming that eating is more energy-intensive than running an ultramarathon? Would weight-lifting be considered a rest after the huge effort of consuming some bananas and drinking a Coke?

It continues to be stupid. “… the best way to free up some extra energy is to make our digestion as quick and efficient as possible. This extra energy can better support the body’s other crucial functions, like circulation, respiration, and excretion, all of which help improve your complexion, oxygenate your cells, and eliminate excess waste in the body. The less waste that’s stored in your body, the better you’ll look and feel.” Wow. Making digestion quick and efficient sounds good, but what does it mean? Diarrhea gets food through the gut faster, but I don’t think it’s desirable. Efficient digestion helped make me fat–I get all the calories out of the food I eat. Anyone in the United States (where Best Yet Markets are located) is not short of energy–we get plenty of food, we are not starving. Therefore, “extra energy” would make us fat. (Do you see a theme in my writing today?) And how does more energy “support” circulation? If it makes the heart beat harder it just raises your blood pressure. In fact, “extra” energy tends to become fat, which then can deposit on the arterial walls, causing arteriosclerosis. And how on earth does extra energy support excretion? The kidneys do consume energy (as do the other excretory organs like the pancreas and sweat glands) but pumping more energy to them as fats and sugars in the blood doesn’t somehow make them better.

I don’t want to spend thousands of words deconstructing the entire pile of woo here. Among the nonsensical and/or unsupported ideas present are:

  • “By simply adjusting how we eat, we can improve our digestion and enjoy effortless weight loss, without giving up any of the foods we love. In other words, you can still eat practically anything and everything you want — just not necessarily all at the same time.” No, you can’t. Weight is to a first approximation calories in vs. calories out.
  • “Properly combine your meals.” They seem to mean that foods from certain categories should not be eaten together. “Be sure to wait three to four hours between your meals before switching categories (such as animal protein, starch, or nut/seed/dried fruit), and feel free to snack on neutral foods, like non-starchy vegetables, at any time of the day.” There is no scientific basis for this idea.
  • “Begin each meal with something raw.” Raw veggies (they don’t mean raw meat or sushi) are a good element in a healthy diet, but there’s no magic about starting with them and they don’t have to feature in every meal. This seems to be pure raw foods faddism, including a telltale reference to “enzymes”. “Raw plant foods are hydrating, filling, and bursting with nutrition.” Hydrating? Some of them (e.g. cucumbers) contain lots of water. Others (e.g. peas) not particularly. And why does the anonymous author think cooking removes water from food. Often it gets added, if the food is steamed or boiled.

There is actually some correct-ish advice in the article (e.g. limit sugar and animal protein). It would be hard to write at that length without being right about something. On the whole, though, it’s an embarrassing, infuriating pile of nonsense. I wrote to Best Yet suggesting they get their nutrition articles vetted by a registered dietitian, physician, or maybe scientist. No answer.

So I can’t buy from them. I’m not organizing a protest, I just would feel guilty about it.

And I miss the store. They really do have the best produce selection of any grocer within 30 minutes of my house. I need to look into local farm stands.

RFK Jr. and the legacy of Camelot: stop embarrassing everyone!

A NY Times journalist writes about how strange it is to avoid talking to a Kennedy son, which he does because RFK Jr. is so irrational and anti-factual. (May be behind a paywall–the Times allows one to read only a limited number of articles free, last I heard.)

Mr. Kennedy to the contrary, the risk from routine vaccination is incredibly low, orders of magnitude less than the risk of the actual diseases you might get if you don’t vaccinate. All his talk about “toxins” and “their brains are gone” is just not based in reality.

Kudos to Mr. Frank Bruni for calling him out on it.

Is RFK Jr. our own Prince Charles, and embarrassing pseudo-science promoter prominent in our media because of who he is related to?

Literacy. And Reason. In One Place. Or, why my blog has this name.

Long post titles ‘R us.

So I’m the chair of LI-CON. It’s what I think of as a “traditional” science fiction convention–organized by fans working as volunteers, with the people giving talks and on panels volunteering their time as well. Topics will of course include science fiction and fantasy, but with me being science nerd and skepticism guy, I’m proud that two of the first four guests are of that movement. John Rennie is the former Editor of Scientific American, and current host of the Weather Channel’s Hacking the Planet–and also a mainstay of the New York City Skeptics. John Grant/Paul Barnett is the author of the series of books Discarded Science, Corrupted Science, Bogus Science, and Denying Science. Paul is also an award-winning author of fiction and editor of encyclopedias.

I’m proud to host them, along with writer Jody Lynn Nye; writer, editor, and many other things Bill Fawcett; and more participants to be announced. And I’d love to meet you there.

To attend LI-CON, please obtain a membership via our funding campaign, iconreturns.com. While you’re there, you can pick up some swag, become an I-CON member, and in general help our 501(c)(3) charitable corporation raise some funds.

Thanks. I look forward to seeing you there.

Doing my small bit for science!

A letter sent to the San Antonio Zoo:

Good evening.

I recently visited your zoo while in San Antonio. It’s a fine institution, one of the better zoos I have seen. It’s clear that, more than most zoos, you take your educational mission seriously and try to have each exhibit teach the viewer something. As a former science teacher, I can only applaud you.

However … I attended one of your keeper-led talks at the elephant exhibit. The keep mentioned that the elephant on display was receiving “the elephant equivalent of glucosamine.” I hope not–because glucosamine does not work to prevent or treat joint pain. Here is Dr. Steven Novella of Yale Medical School on the subject: http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/no-benefit-from-glucosamine-and-chondroitin/

Here’s a recent meta-analysis of research in the field, showing that good studies with large patient groups show no benefit from glucosamine, via PubMed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20847017

I’m sure you would not want your educational activities to promote the use of valueless treatments for arthritis, so please ask your keeper(s) to avoid endorsing glucosamine.

Thank you,
Carl Fink