Tag Archives: pseudoscience

What’s your sign?

(…Climbs onto soapbox…)

I have been so busy with other stuff that newsworthy items have almost gone completely by the board. I didn’t learn of the events in Arizona, for instance, until a day after they happened. I had no idea the President made a speech the other night until I saw someone mention it on Facebook the next day. And I learn today of the shakeup in astrological circles over the procession of the equinoxes that seems to have the country in a panic.

I suppose that is to be expected. After all, horoscopes are printed daily in just about every newspaper in the country and their collective column inches outstrip science columns by untold orders of magnitude. People have invested a lot money in professional readings that may not be valid if the procession of the equinoxes isn’t taken into consideration. Forget the fact that time and again, double-blind studies of horoscopes have shown it’s predictions to be no better than chance, a change in sign could introduce complications into that age-old pick-up line, “Baby, what’s your sign?’

While it is amusing to see the momentary panic of people trying to understand what the precession of the equinoxes is, let alone how it affects their horoscope, the fact of the matter is that there will be swift rationalizations for how this was all anticipated and works perfectly into the scheme for divining the future already well-established. And of course, they are right: nonsense begets nonsense.

Or as a computer science professor once put it: garbage in, garbage out.

(…Steps of soapbox and crawls back into warm, comfortable media blackout.)

The onion and the flu: a myth in one act

I received an email message today with the subject “FW: Very interesting – Onion Theory” and I realize that alone should have given me pause, but I recognized the sender’s address and took a look at it anyway.  The gist of the message is that onions scattered about the rooms of your house can stave off the flu virus, and that everyone should give this a try since flu season is upon us.  Here was my response to the message:

Sorry to disappoint, but the onion vs. flu has long since been proven to be an urban myth:

http://www.snopes.com/medical/swineflu/onion.asp

http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/medical/a/swine_flu_facts_onions_and_flu.htm

It’s a little disappointing that this stuff still gets spread around (no pun intended) and casts a sad light on the state of our understand of scientific method and principles of science in general.

The narrative of the farmer’s tale has some rather gaping logical flaws, to say nothing of completely misunderstanding the biology of viruses.

The best way to prevent the flu, of course, is to get a flu vaccine, which countless double-blind studies have shown, prevents the flu with a higher degree of success than anything else, including onions.

Despite advice to the contrary, trying the onion method can hurt, especially if you are someone prone to getting the flu like a young child or elderly person.  Since onions provide no protection, trying this method as opposed to, say, a vaccination leaves you vulnerable to a virus that you’ve deceived yourself into thinking you’re protected against. This can have obvious dangerous consequences.

Sorry to spoil the show, but it’s nothing more than snakeoil shammery.

What bothers me most about messages like this is that they uncover just how poor our collective grasp of science and scientific principles really is, and just how easily we’ll accept without question something we receive in email, and then pass it along to everyone we know.  We’ve got to do better people!  It took my 5 seconds to do a Google search for “onions and flu” and the top two hits were the two links that I included in my message.

What’s more is the assertion that cut up onions left around somehow dangerous, an assertion that goes equally unchallenged, and one that is equally false.  There is no scientific evidence of this.

There is the question of why even bother replying to these messages.  After all, I know that the information is wrong, so who is it hurting?  Well, I suppose I could leave it alone, but this is a particular pet peeve of mine and sometimes, I just can’t keep quiet about these things.

And just to be clear and so no one missed the point onions won’t protect you from the flu.

He bends spoons with his bare mind!

I can’t believe I haven’t posted about this yet but I’ve been so busy with life that it keeps slipping my mind.

Warning: lots of skepticism within

Why House is the most educational show on TV

If you didn’t catch last night’s episode of House, “Top Secret”, you should. It proves why House is the most educational show on TV. In an era when shows like Medium and Supernatural and Psychic Detectives are big hits, what a relief to have a show that sticks to pure rationality and reason for solutions to problems.

Last night’s show was interesting because House had a dream about a marine, who he’d never seen before, and who suddenly turned up as his patient the next day. And yet House stuck to his guns, did not leap toward supernatural explanations, and in addition to figuring out what was wrong with his patient, he also figured out how he could have had a dream about a patient before he met the patient. And it was all through reason.

I’m skeptical about some of the medicine on House. Granted, I don’t know enough about medicine to be sure, but I suspect like in any TV show, things are dumbed down, glazed over, and literary license is used. Setting that aside, the main focus of the show is not on the medical mysteries but on the methods used to solve them. Deduction, induction, reasoning, ruling out, ruling in, these are the way problems get solved, not by a crystal ball, lines in the palm of your hand, or Tarot cards.

Last night’s episode reminded me of one of my favorite Isaac Asimov Black Widower mysteries, “The Obvious Factor”. A mystery is presented at the gathering whereby it seems totally and completely impossible that there is any rational explanation. The guest tells a story and has his hosts completely perplexed. But not Henry the waiter. Henry points out that there is one obvious factor that has been overlooked by everyone else: that the guest is lying. And that, in fact, was the case. The guest made up the impossible events, and after ruling everything else out, the only rational explanation left was that he was lying. How many people would have liked to believe that the events described in the story could only be explained by supernatural forces, when an obvious factor still remained?

Gregory House may be an arrogant ass and have the bedside manner of foley catheter. But he’s one of my heroes because he doesn’t give into flim flam and nonsense. He keeps looking for rational explanations even when everyone else has given up.