Over the past couple of weeks there have been numerous articles in the blogosphere that state, with a few variations, that high fructose corn syrup is addictive as cocaine. Wow, that’s quite a statement. In fact, one article, High-Fructose Corn Syrup “as Addictive as Cocaine”, doesn’t even make any caveats to that statement. They simply conclude that, “similar to cocaine addiction, the researchers say that some people are more vulnerable to food addiction than others, which explains why some are obese and some are not.” Setting aside the fact that food addiction is an eating disorder with a psychological basis, and more often than not includes foods that don’t contain high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), let’s look at the study that seems to have caused this myth that it is as “addictive as cocaine.”
Before we examine the article that is the basis of these claims, let’s find out a bit more about HFCS. But first, we need a little sugar biochemistry just to give the reader some background. There are two broad types of sugars, aldose and ketose, along with over twenty individual, naturally-found sugars, called monosaccharides. Of all of those sugars, only four play any significant role in human nutrition: glucose, fructose, galactose, and ribose (which has a very minor nutritional role, though a major one as the backbone of DNA and RNA). Got that? Four sugars. Whatever you eat, however you consume it, you can only absorb 4 sugars.
(more…) «High fructose corn syrup is…»
Here we go again. The popular press rewrites a press release that overstates the result of a published paper. The press repeats the story everywhere. We now think that it’s the truth, but it hasn’t been proven in a clinical trial and the original published paper says nothing even close to what’s being written. And, it’s left to a couple of bloggers to walk back the exaggerations to the real scientific conclusions published in the real paper.
According to an article in Science Daily, Scientists can now block heroin, morphine addiction:
In a major breakthrough, an international team of scientists has proven that addiction to morphine and heroin can be blocked, while at the same time increasing pain relief.
The results — which could eventually lead to new co-formulated drugs that assist patients with severe pain, as well as helping heroin users to kick the habit — will be published August 16 in the Journal of Neuroscience.
“Our studies have shown conclusively that we can block addiction via the immune system of the brain, without targeting the brain’s wiring,” says the lead author of the study, Dr Mark Hutchinson, ARC Research Fellow in the University of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences.
“Both the central nervous system and the immune system play important roles in creating addiction, but our studies have shown we only need to block the immune response in the brain to prevent cravings for opioid drugs.”
(more…) «Drug can block heroin addiction!…»
In the real world of science-based medicine, the link between autism and vaccines (particularly, the MMR vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella) has been thoroughly debunked, quashed, and discredited. In the delusional world of the vaccine denialists, the link between autism and vaccines is based on Mr. Andy Wakefield‘s paper alleging a connection between MMR and autism that has been retracted by the Lancet medical journal.
Then why is there even a debate about this manufactroversy (a manufactured or invented controversy)? Well, researchers actually examined this false controversy in a recently published article, by Graham Dixon and Christopher Clarke of Cornell University, in Health Education Research. They investigated how the news media and journalists try to “falsely balance” their reporting about the debunked link between vaccines and autism. The journalists create this false balance, “despite a strong medical and scientific consensus backed by rigorous epidemiological studies indicating no link between autism and vaccines.” Dixon and Clarke also state that “research suggests that journalists in the United Kingdom and United States often report this controversy by presenting claims both for and against a link in a relatively ‘balanced’ fashion. In some cases, so-called ‘falsely balanced’ reporting fails to mention which claim is supported by a scientific consensus.” An overwhelming scientific consensus, by the way.
(more…) «“False balanced” reporting of autism-vaccine…»
Unless you were living under a parking lot, you probably heard that the remains of King Richard III had been uncovered under a parking lot in Leicester, England. Richard III, who was King of England for only two years, 1483-5, died in the Battle of Bosworth Field, which was essentially the last battle of the civil war Wars of the Roses, the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York that raged across England in the latter half of the 15th century. The leader of the winning side, the Lancastrians, was Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who became the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII (and whose son included the infamous Henry VIII and granddaughters were Mary I and Elizabeth I). Richard was unceremoniously buried, which, over the centuries, was itself buried under the city of Leicester.
According to historical records, Richard III developed idiopathic scoliosis during his childhood, which was mocked by Shakespeare in his tragedy, Richard III. Contemporary historians wrote that Richard was killed by several blows to the head with swords and his helmet might have been knocked off during the battle. (Interestingly, Richard was the last British monarch to have died in battle.)
From these pieces of evidence, scientists from the University of Leicester drew upon historical evidence of both the scoliosis and the battle wounds and compared them to the skeleton found under the parking lot in Leicester. The scientists stated that the skeleton was Richard III “beyond a reasonable doubt.“
(more…) «Richard III found under a…»
Let’s get this out upfront. There is no evidence that genetically modified food (which most people call GM or GMO) cause any harm to humans. None. And many people, myself included, consider anti-GMO activists to be nothing more than the left’s version of global warming denialists. The anti-GMO crowd use many of the same strategies and techniques of all science deniers, whether it’s vaccine-, global warming-, or evolution-denialists:
- logical fallacies
- hysterical claims
- abject lack of real science
British environmentalist Mark Lynas was probably the heart of the anti-GMO movement, who as recently as 2008 railed that the big agricultural companies, like Monsanto, were lying that GM crops were necessary for feeding the world as the climate was changing. Basically, the only reason anyone today is questioning GMO crops is because of Lynas.
(more…) «Anti-GMO activist changes his mind–what…»
If you read a news article, Google a scientific topic, or watch TV, you’d think that some scientific principles were actually being debated by scientists. From listening to the screaming and yelling, you’t think that scientists aren’t sure about evolution, vaccines, global warming, and the age of the earth (or even the age of the universe). There are even those who think there’s a debate that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.
Part of the problem is that the public falls for the false equivalency logical fallacy. They think that to be balanced, both sides of a scientific argument are equivalent in quality of opinion and evidence. But rarely is this true, especially in scientific principles that have been well-studied and supported by a massive amount of evidence.
Part of the problem is that some people think that science is unapproachable and too hard to comprehend. It isn’t. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s easy, because it shouldn’t be.
To become a world class architect and designing a skyscraper isn’t easy, but we, non-architects, can observe what we see, and accept that the building isn’t going to topple over in a hurricane. Do we presume to know how the foundation has to be built to support the building? Or what materials are used to give flexibility in a wind, but strong enough to not collapse? Mostly, we don’t, we trust that there isn’t a massive conspiracy to build unsafe skyscrapers because architects are being paid off by Big Concrete to use cheaper materials.
(more…) «How science deniers use false…»
This is a story about clinical research, misinterpreting said clinical research, an overaggressive Public Relations department, honest scientists, and good scientific journalism. Let’s start at the beginning.
This week, an article was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by Schernhammer et al., scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard University Medical School, that examined potential risks of certain cancers in groups that consumed diet drinks. The study identified, over 22 years, 1324 non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHLs), 285 multiple myelomas, and 339 leukemias. They then determined their intake of diet sodas (or pop, depending on your location in the United States).
They determined that:
- Men who had greater than 1 daily serving of diet soda had increased risks of NHLs and multiple myeloma. Women had no observed increased risks.
- They also observed an unexpected elevated risk of NHL with a higher consumption of regular, sugar-sweetened soda in men but not in women.
- Neither regular nor diet soda increased risk of leukemia but were associated with increased leukemia risk when data for men and women were combined.
Based on these results, you might think that diet sodas are dangerous, at least for men. Or maybe just sodas (or pop), whether sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners, are dangerous. Or maybe not. The authors themselves conclude:
Although our findings preserve the possibility of a detrimental effect of a constituent of diet soda, such as aspartame, on select cancers, the inconsistent sex effects and occurrence of an apparent cancer risk in individuals who consume regular soda do not permit the ruling out of chance as an explanation.
In other words, there’s really not much there. And that’s not bad in science. They tried to look for something, and they didn’t find anything. Maybe those men who drank sodas heavily had other confounding risk factors like obesity, diet, or other environmental factors. Or it may just be random.
At this point in the story, it’s just one of those published articles that really isn’t much of anything. No one would make much of it, because it really doesn’t provide much evidence that aspartame or sodas are that dangerous.
Then Brigham and Women’s Hospital puts out a press release with an attention grabbing headline of “The truth isn’t sweet when it comes to artificial sweeteners.” Now, if you saw that headline, you would have assumed that the article provided a solid conclusion that there was a direct causal link between artificial sweeteners and certain cancers. But the article said no such thing, it showed a very weak link, if one at all.
I guess the real scientists at Harvard saw the press release and decided their reputations mattered more than marketing the hospital in an unethical way. But whatever the real story, the hospital issued an “apology”:
It has come to our attention that the scientific leaders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital did not have an opportunity, prior to today, to review the findings of the paper entitled “Consumption of Artificial Sweetener and Sugar Containing Soda and the Risk of Lymphoma and Leukemia in Men and Women”, to be published in today’s Journal of Clinical Nutrition (sic). Upon review of the findings, the consensus of our scientific leaders is that the data is weak, and that BWH Media Relations was premature in the promotion of this work. We apologize for the time you have invested in this story.
Uh, it’s actually the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shocking they can’t get that right. Maybe I’m just being picky, but Public Relations should represent the organization better than that.
Robert Bazell, NBC News reported that “the situation is a great example of why the public often finds science confusing and frustrating. After being asked some hard questions – and just before the report was to be released – the hospital changed its tune.”
Bazell further reports that “the conclusion was so weak that the researchers had to submit it to six journals before they found a seventh, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that would publish it. Few reporters read that journal. If it was not for the frightening headline no one would have known about this study.”
This study was a well-intended one that could have found a causal link if there was one, because of the way it sought out information. But it did not find the link, and that is how research is done. Sometimes, you find evidence of the null hypothesis, that artificial sweeteners don’t do anything.
And just in case there’s any confusion, Bazell reported that the lead author Schernhammer, when asked whether the published “research proves that aspartame is dangerous, she answered emphatically, ‘No, it does not.’”
The vast weight of evidence shows aspartame is safe. This doesn’t add to that weight, it just doesn’t support that it causes cancer. And it proves one more thing. Do NOT use press releases as your scientific proof source. They aren’t worth anything, because they aren’t written by scientists, and they are used to promote the facility.
Drink your diet soda. Or pop. Your choice.
- Schernhammer ES, Bertrand KA, Birmann BM, Sampson L, Willett WW, Feskanich D. Consumption of artificial sweetener- and sugar-containing soda and risk of lymphoma and leukemia in men and women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Oct 24. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 23097267.
- Robert Bazell. Harvard hospital admits it promoted weak science on aspartame. NBC News. October 24, 2012.
- Harvard hospital apologizes for promoting “weak” data on aspartame, cancer . Embargo Watch. October 24, 2012.
Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.
Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the US, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. The latter is sometimes mistakenly called global warming skepticism, because “skeptic” was stolen by the pseudoskeptics, but plainly is a right-wing belief across the world, often intersecting closely with the evolution deniers. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.
Global warming or evolution is supported by a massive mountain of scientific evidence. Both are theories that are “ well-substantiated explanations of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” As I have stated before, rhetoric and debate are not going to refute these theories. We demand scientific data, produced in world class laboratories that have been published in top tier, high quality journals, subject to withering criticism. After time, they will either be accepted into the body of evidence or rejected. That’s how science works. It’s not a political debate where the person with the loudest voice wins.
(more…) «GMO opponents are the global…»
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how one of the world’s leading sponsors of vaccine research and bringing healthcare (including vaccinations) to underdeveloped countries is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. And how they are one of the leading targets of the vaccine denialists who use a bunch of outright lies to attack his good works.
These attacks remind me of Ernst’s Law, which states “If you are researching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and you are not hated by the CAM world, you’re not doing it right.” For vaccines, I guess we should we create a corollary of the law, “if you are supporting the safety and efficacy of vaccinations for children, and you are not hated by vaccine denialists, you’re not doing it right.” I’m not sure if we should call it Offit’s Law, named after Paul Offit, a tireless supporter of vaccines who has been the target of lies and hatred, or Gate’s Law, but the point is made.
So, the hatred against Bill Gates started up again against Bill Gates started up again last week. It came from a post by an anti-vaxxer by the name of Sayer Ji who wrote an article, Gates Foundation Funds Surveillance of Anti-Vaccine Groups. Ji’s a bit of strange one who has previously made a completely insane claim that vaccines “subvert evolution”, which was effectively ripped into tiny little pieces and incinerated by Orac a few months ago. Essentially, Ji brings out the Naturalistic Fallacy, uses the description of how the world “is” to infer how it “ought” to be, stating that someone we interfere with “evolution” through the use of vaccinations. Orac, takes him down by concluding:
Ji’s article is the naturalistic fallacy on megadoses of steroids. To him, science isn’t just subverting Nature (with a capital “N,” again!) but it’s producing vaccines that are allegedly going to permanently alter us to make us no longer “human.” Vaccine scientists and doctors are somehow “callous lack of regard for three billion years of evolution,” as though evolution could never be improved upon. What is medicine, after all, if not interfering with evolution. Antibiotics interfere with evolutionary selection in that they save lives that might otherwise have been lost, allowing reproduction that might never have happened. So does surgery, a whole host of medicines, and a number of other treatments. That’s the idea.
(more…) «Vaccine denialists really hate Bill…»
Several weeks ago, I wrote an article on how to decipher the science (or pseudoscience) in popular news articles. It discusses how we should be critical, if not skeptical, of what is written in these articles to ascertain what is or is not factually scientific. We even need to determine the quality of science from the best to the weakest, so that we can determine the level of authority of the science before we pass it along to others. With the social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which provides us with data that may not exceed a few words, then it’s even more imperative that we separate the absurd (bananas kill cancer) from the merely misinterpreted (egg yolks are just as bad as smoking).
Wikipedia is one place which can either be an outstanding resource for science or medicine, or it can just a horrible mess with citations to pseudoscience purveyors. For example, Wikipedia’s article on Alzheimer’s disease is probably one of the best medical articles on the “encyclopedia”. It is laid out in a logical manner, with an excellent summary, a discussion of causes, pathophysiology, mechanisms, treatments, and other issues. It may not be at the level of a medical review meant for a medical student or researcher, but it would be a very good start for a scientifically inclined college researcher or someone who had a family who was afflicted with the disease.
(more…) «Quality of science sources in…»
As I’ve discussed previously about homeopathy, there is absolutely no evidence that it does anything but quench thirst, since the basic principles of homeopathy is that. And even then, there are much cheaper methods to quench thirst, like getting water from your tap.
Not that it should surprise anyone, but it’s been reported that a consortium of homeopathy companies in Germany have been paying a “journalist” over $50,000 to set up and run a set of websites to criticize a UK academic, Professor Edzard Ernst, one of the world’s leading scientific skeptics of the lack of scientific viability of alternative medicine, specifically homeopathy. The original article, Schmutzige Methoden der sanften Medizin (or the Dirty Tricks of Alternative Medicine) was published in a German newspaper, described how the these companies, who manufacture homeopathic sugar pills, funded a journalist named Claus Fritzsche to denigrate any critics of homeopathy. He focused on Professor Ernst, by attacking him for being partisan, biased and incompetent, on several of these websites. He then linked them together in order to raise their Google ranking, so that any search for Professor Ernst and homeopathy would put these websites high on any list of Google hits.
(more…) «Homeopathy companies pay journalist to…»
Here we go again with the trope that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The Daily Mail, a British middle market tabloid, has published an article, MMR: A mother’s victory: The vast majority of doctors say there is no link between the triple jab and autism, but could an Italian court case reignite this controversial debate?, that is attempting to create a controversy out of thin air about the MMR vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella. The article is referring to an insane Italian court ruling which, despite all evidence to the contrary, blamed a child’s autism on the vaccination.
(more…) «Manufacturing a controversy about the…»
One of the larger problems of the internet (OK, there are a lot) is how science is discussed out in the world. Google any science topic, and you’ll get thousand or millions of hits on any idea in science or medicine. The information is derived from other websites, news reports, rumors, or, to be cynical, from outright fabrication. In the fields of science and medicine, critical thinking is absolutely necessary to understanding it. Because it’s hard work, pseudoscience and anti-science have become quite prevalent lately.
(more…) «Checking for pseudoscience in real…»
This week, the Huffington Post, one of the 10 worst anti-science websites, continues to confirm our suspicions about the quality of their science journalism. HuffPo supports the anti-vaccination lunacy, have editors who claim homeopathy works, and that a bug on the lens of a camera is an alien spacecraft. It’s not clear why anyone with a stitch of science background would read that thing, but sometimes their junk science wanders over into bad journalism of the highest sort. HuffPo is the FoxNews of the left wing, a poorly written and edited mouthpiece for the uncritical left.
(more…) «Where the Huffington Post ignores…»
There’s been a lot of press and internet complaints about the new Tennessee anti-evolution bill that recently passed the Tennessee Senate, and passed last year in the House. Essentially the bill encourages teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.” And I can’t say this enough, what scientific weaknesses? The only debate that makes sense would one on the ethics of human cloning, but then again, it could be a code word for anything from stem-cell research to in vitro fertilization.
I know all of my liberal friends love the Huffington Post (HuffPo), but I think that the online newspaper is no better than anything published by Rupert Murdoch. And it’s not just me. Brian Dunning, over at Skeptoid, considers it one of the 10 worst anti-science websites, although I think it deserves a higher seeding in the Pseudoscience Bracket. Here’s how I look at it: if they can’t get the science right, if they continue to support non-evidence based stories, how are we to trust anything else they write? If they aggressively promote homeopathy, anti-vaccine lunacy, and colon detoxification, all thoroughly debunked with real science published in real peer-reviewed journals, then what are they promoting in their political news? I rarely read anything from HuffPo, and I consider them an insult to the science journalism.
(more…) «Huffington Post sees UFO’s–logical fallacies…»
Whenever I read statements from the anti-evolution/creationist crowd, I often wonder if they’re satisfied with their intellect and knowledge. Their level of denialism is so high that they cannot even get basic science right. In Vasko Kohlmayer’s Washington Times article, Is Richard Dawkins an ape?, decides to deny most basic biological knowledge just to make some point that humans are somehow “better” than an ape, and use it to “disprove” evolution. Kohlmayer’s logic, if you can call it that, is so fallacious, I’m not sure which fallacy would fit. Maybe I’ll just use them all.
Before we start, you should know a little bit about The Washington Times. It was founded by the Unification Church (better known as Moonies, from their namesake, Sun Myung Moon) as a competitor to the Washington Post, a rather progressive newspaper in Washington, DC. The Post had written some negative articles about Moonies back in the late 70′s, while it was the only newspaper in the US Capital. The Washington Times has a very conservative editorial bias, based upon anti-communism and “Judeo-Christian values.” Of course, the paper is generally a mouthpiece for the conservative movement in the US, with its preference for climate change and evolution denialism.
(more…) «Richard Dawkins says he’s an…»
A couple of months ago, I wrote about the Laacher See, a caldera lake and potentially active volcano in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. The Daily Mail, a UK tabloid, published a story stating that the volcano was ready to erupt soon. Though there is plenty of evidence that the volcano is still active and may one day erupt, there is no evidence that it’s about to do so anytime soon.
(more…) «Volcano in Germany is definitely…»
The Huffington Post published an article recently entitled, Science and religion quotes: what the world’s greatest scientists say about God. I rarely read HuffPo, despite my having a similar political point-of-view, because of what I perceive to be a high number of anti-science articles. In this case, HuffPo tries to show how some of the great scientists were actually deeply spiritual if not religious. Using quotes as evidence for a history or biography of an individual is pathetic and disingenuous, especially if taken out of context. It would be as if we tried to describe Los Angeles based on a snapshot of one house in San Pedro.
(more…) «Huffington Post and quote mining–one…»
New Scientist, a popular science magazine, published an article entitled, “Most fish in the sea evolved on land.” It doesn’t describe anything new and exciting, except bad science journalism. If you read the title, you’d think “wow, fish evolved on land.” Well, they didn’t, and the article makes that clear. The article states that fish evolved in freshwater and radiate out to saltwater environments, mainly because freshwater environments are more stable, at least, with regards to the water.
(more…) «Most fish in the sea…»