Swimming with pseudoscience – the cupping craze

cupping

I am not a fan of the Olympics. Generally, they are a huge waste of money, and most people across the world have little interest in most of the sports. I have barely noticed what’s going on this year in the Olympics in Brazil, until my news feeds were filled with the junk science craze of the month – cupping.

No, cupping doesn’t mean the protective equipment some male athletes use to protect their groinal (invented word, deal with it) regions. Although, for those athletes, that’s the most important cupping they will ever do.

Apparently, the cupping craze was first noticed because several members US Men’s swim team had these awful looking welts all over their bodies. Michael Phelps, probably the greatest Olympian ever with over 20 gold medals, was sporting several of the cupping welts on his shoulder.

If this feathery reptile has anything to say about medical crazes, cupping has just moved to the top of the list. Let’s look at it, but spoiler alert – see homeopathy.

Continue reading “Swimming with pseudoscience – the cupping craze”

National Football League and concussions – let’s review

National Football League and concussions

On 25 December 2015, Concussion, a movie about the National Football League and concussions to its players, will premiere in theaters in the USA. The movie is about Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian forensic pathologist, who, while working as a neuropathologist at the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Coroner’s Office examined the brains of several deceased National Football League (NFL) players. He was the first to publish findings of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in American football players.

For those of you who ignore the sport, or find it an American curiosity, it is a very violent sport where 160 kg (about 350 lb) men, running and moving at the speed of world class Olympic athletes, hit other men moving at the same speed.

The game is complex (don’t even think that these young men are stupid, they have to memorize and quickly read hundreds of play combinations just for one game), much like an intricate ballet. Those who belittle the sport don’t understand its elaborate and convoluted movements combined with its brutal and gladiatorial combat.

It’s also a huge business. The National Football League owns Sundays, generating revenue in excess of US$12 billion from TV contracts, merchandise sales, and licensing. It’s difficult to tell what profits it generates (it’s a private “non-profit” corporation), but it’s estimated to be around $1 billion per year.

Put it another way, the second most valuable sports franchise in the world is the Dallas Cowboys, who are estimated to have a value of around US$3.2 billion. Just as a comparison, for those of you who are not Americans, the most valuable sports franchise in the world is the soccer team, Real Madrid, which is valued at US$3.26 billion, just slightly ahead of the Cowboys.

The NFL is such a powerful economic force, that they are very careful with their image, despite ongoing issues with domestic violence and other problems. It was amusing to watch how ESPN, the USA’s leading cable sports network, dealt with the movie about the National Football League and concussions since the network paid the NFL over US$15 billion for TV rights for the next few years. ESPN is reluctant to criticize the NFL for anything, but it also needs advertisers like the promoters of the new movie.

But this isn’t about sports per se. Let’s look at the science behind the claims made by Dr. Bennet Omalu. Let’s look at the credibility of these claims and refutations.

Continue reading “National Football League and concussions – let’s review”

Stuart Scott–sports, ESPN and racism

Stuart Scott accepting ESPY award in July 2014.
Stuart Scott accepting ESPY award in July 2014.

Though I love science, though I love learning about how science is smashing through the barriers of ignorance about our natural universe, sports is my first love. I absorb every statistic I can–I pour over scores, and I can’t wait until polls are out. And nothing feeds this addiction better than ESPN, a U.S.-based global cable and satellite television channel that is owned mostly by the Walt Disney Company, with the Hearst Corporation as a minority owner.

I first got ESPN on my cable system was in the late 1980’s. This was important, because I was just getting into a Fantasy Baseball League, and since this was the pre-internet era, getting sports information to beat your opponents was important. I stayed up to watch for late scores, lineup changes, injuries, and whatever else that might give me an advantage.

As some people may be addicted to the Walking Dead or Downton Abbey, I am addicted to all five or six ESPN channels. The sportscasters that anchored (or currently anchor) ESPN’s primetime show, SportsCenter, became almost part of my family. I loved their catchphrases, and I would share them with co-workers (sports is a big topic of conversation in the pharmaceutical industry, as everyone in management comes from a different area of the country with different colleges and pro teams as favorites). Continue reading “Stuart Scott–sports, ESPN and racism”

Sidney Crosby, the NHL, and mumps–separating myth from science

crosby-mumps-2Yesterday, I posted an article about the recent mumps outbreak in the National Hockey League, which has hit 13 players (there’s no official number, it varies depending on the source) including one of top stars of the league, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. A fourteenth player, also on the Pittsburgh team, may also have the virus, depending on the test results that come back for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Beau Bennett, who has been “put in isolation” by the team.

If this outbreak happened in the general American population, it would get some local news, but since there are just a few hundred cases of mumps in the USA in any given year, not many of us would be writing about it. But since it’s happening in a popular sport (technically the fourth most popular sport in the USA, but number 1 in Canada), it gets more focus.

While writing the story about this outbreak yesterday, I ran across a lot of social media myths that vary from truly odd and scary to plain misinformation. I thought it would be useful to quash some of the most annoying bits of misinformation. Continue reading “Sidney Crosby, the NHL, and mumps–separating myth from science”

Sidney Crosby, the National Hockey League, vaccines and mumps

I get to do a click-bait article talking about Sidney Crosby, of the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of the most talented and exciting young ice hockey players in the National Hockey League (NHL), the top level of ice hockey in North America (if not the world). It’s a sport dominated by Canadians, Russians, Czechs, Finns, Swedes, and Americans, though there are a smattering of players from other countries especially in Central/Northern Europe. In Canada, hockey is a religion.

Sidney Crosby with the mumps. ©2014, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby with the mumps. ©2014, NHL, Pittsburgh Penguins

And I love hockey. Yes, I know it’s a sport whose fans are located in freezing cold parts of the world, and has absolutely 0 interest outside of maybe 10 countries. But it’s a truly world sport, with players from all kinds of countries. I sat a game last year where a whole row of fans travelled from Finland to the USA to watch one player. They chatted with other fans, used iPhones (poor Nokia) to text photos to their friends back in Helsinki, and complained about US beers. You don’t get that at a American football or baseball game.

So, why are we talking about Sidney Crosby and ice hockey in a scientific skeptics blog? Well, it’s not really about click baiting (though I need to try that once), it’s because Crosby has come down with the mumps. Worse yet, the NHL appears to have a mini-outbreak of mumps with 13 players, two referees, and numerous coaches, staff, and other NHL team employees contracting the disease.  Continue reading “Sidney Crosby, the National Hockey League, vaccines and mumps”

Celebrating a hero

Today, 67 years ago, Jackie Robinson took the field with the Brooklyn Dodgers, breaking the color barrier in sports–he was the first black to integrate professional sports in the USA. Many of you probably don’t know anything about baseball. Many of you probably don’t know who Jackie was. Most of you probably don’t know that this was the probably the most important event in America’s, if not the world’s, racial relations.

Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. Copyright held by United State Library of Congress, freely licensed.
Jackie Robinson playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. Copyright held by United State Library of Congress, freely licensed.

Jackie Robinson was an incredible man by any measure. He went to UCLA, even though few blacks went to university, even in mostly integrated California. He joined the United States Army during World War II, and because one of the few blacks who were able to get into Officer Candidate School, which trains new commissioned officers in the Army. Even though he couldn’t deploy with his battalion to Europe during the war because of racism in the Army, he served until he was honorably discharged.

When Jackie played baseball,  he was assaulted by more hatred and bigotry than any normal person probably could endure. When the Dodgers would go to southern cities like St. Louis or Atlanta, he was treated horribly by the racists of the time. In fact, his treatment in presumably more liberal cities in the north was hardly different from what he experienced in the racially segregated South.

Jackie Robinson handled the racism, the taunts, and the hatred with a dignity and grace cannot be describe in words. And he lived through all of this, while being one of the stars of baseball, one of the greatest who ever played the game. 

But, it was just sports. How could that be so important? Because I can draw a straight line from Jackie breaking the race barrier of baseball directly to electing Barack Obama as President. The racism that we read on the back roads of the internet against President Obama is probably the same that Jackie heard. And both men stood above it.

I personally have lived in a glorious time in the world. Where science has begun to conquer ignorance, despite my most cynical moments. Where we can conquer diseases that used to kill. Where we can dream of putting men on Mars. And where a person’s color means nothing, and they can be president.

No, I am not naive. I don’t think the world of race is filled with rainbows and unicorns. I still hear overt racism amongst whites. I still run into horrifying anti-Semitism amongst people who should have learned their lesson of the destructive power of racial hatred in World War II. 

But today, I watch sports, and I don’t care if someone is African-American or Hispanic or Asian or Jewish or a good old white Euro-American. Frankly, I want my team to win. When I was in the corporate world, I only cared if a person was ambitious and intelligent and demanding of success. Your skin color mattered not. I wanted to win market share and increase profits, and a person’s color was irrelevant to my desire to win.

And my attitude, my feelings toward my fellow man, are in a direct line from a man who played baseball well before I was born, or even had any interest in the sport. And every person of color in sport today, whether its baseball, football (American or otherwise), hockey, basketball owes their livelihood to Jackie Robinson. I can even draw a line from Jackie Robinson starting in the game of baseball to Neil deGrasse Tyson teaching us all about the universe. And we’re all better for this.

So even if you don’t like baseball, or don’t even know anything about the sport. Or if you don’t like sports in general. We should all honor Jackie Robinson for his courage, dignity, and perseverance–he gave us a slightly more wonderful world.

Alabama and Mississippi think Obama is a Muslim and evolution is wrong

Obama receiving an Alabama jersey after honoring Alabama for the 2011 NCAA Division 1 football championship. Of course, it was followed by a Muslim prayer.

I’ve always considered the Deep South, which includes Alabama and Mississippi, to be a part of the country way out of step with the real world, including the rest of the country.  Without the South, the United States would basically be a liberal, religiously tolerant, progressive country, similar in a lot of respects to Canada.  Both Alabama and Mississippi are relatively poor with educational systems that rank at or near the bottom of the US.  Other than college football champion, it’s hard to see that their educational system has done much positive. Continue reading “Alabama and Mississippi think Obama is a Muslim and evolution is wrong”