“Small Study of Reflexology Finds Nothing,” Headline Should Read


Nice description of easy “tells” of a bad study: low sample size (or ‘n’) and lack of a “blinding” strategy.

Originally posted on Illuminutti:

Written by Kyle Hill via randi.org

If alternative medicine wants to be taken more seriously, the studies must be better designed and be put in the proper context.

UK’s The Telegraphreported last month that a study published in the journal Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice showed that reflexology was “as effective as pain killers.” It’s a bold claim.

However, this claim is backed up by nothing in the study. In fact, all the methodological flaws encourage a reflexive rejection of the study’s conclusions.

No Control, No Power

You don’t have to be a scientist to know what questions to ask about a study. Some of the most basic are “What was the sample size?” and “Was it double-blinded?” Even these basic questions can tell you a lot about what researchers find.

The reflexology study had a sample of 15 participants, most of them women, and each received both

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Psych! Part II: Electric Boogaloo aka Dr. Oz & Theresa Caputo (Again)

Here we go again. I ranted about these two dipshits months ago.  Dr. Oz and Theresa Caputo have teamed up again. I can’t really say it better than Jamy Ian Swiss over at JREF:

I think Dr. Oz is fundamentally undermining how people think about medical science and medical care, and how to make judgments about what is medically and scientifically true and untrue. If the skeptic movement is about helping to teach people how to think, Dr. Mehmet Oz is the anti-thinker. He is reversing his responsibility as medical practitioner and weakening the public’s ability to make informed judgments. 

Someone please get these hacks off the air.

Consider the Source: Critical Thought & Immigration Reform

In light of the Immigration Reform bill now in evaluation by congress,  The Heritage Foundation made news this week by publishing a paper arguing that granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants will cost the U.S. government 5.3 trillion.  I read the study through once and it does make some bold (and debatable) assertions, but the purpose of this post is not necessarily to poke holes in the study itself. I will leave it to those more experienced than I to take that on. Rather, my intent here is to make a case for critical thinking.

It is relatively simple, though not at all common, to exercise critical thinking skills in the face of hoaxes such as sasquatch studies, alien abductions and other paranormal gobbledygook.   It becomes far more difficult with more mainstream topics, such as science and most especially, politics.  Regardless of political tendency, citizens must critically consider all sides of an issue, including those positions that are in line with their own viewpoints.  It is easy to find fault in opposing viewpoints, not so much the other way around. This concept is known as confirmation bias. Simply put, this is the predilection to accept evidence that confirms existing personal beliefs or biases and discount that which conflicts. Someone displaying confirmation bias will cherry-pick their data, considering only the facts that back-up their beliefs, usually unconsciously. This is the sometimes the case in science, but it is my opinion that with politics, it is often intentional. In light of this, most extreme Right Wing Nut Jobs will read the Heritage Foundation study and find little to fault and the far left Dirty Godless Liberals will decry it as dubious and shoddy accounting.  It is because of confirmation bias that this study will do nothing to convert anyone entrenched on either side of the debate, but what about the undecideds and the centrists (or the casual follower of politics, such as myself)?

That’s where this handy trick comes in. Consider the source, always. Journalists put this concept to excellent use this week with a follow-on story that revealed that one of the authors of the Heritage Foundation’s study, a Harvard graduate named Jason Richwine, concluded in his doctoral dissertation (written prior to the Heritage Foundation paper) that immigrant populations have lower IQ’s than the native white population and that immigrant  IQ should be a factor in immigration policy.  In other words, the U. S. should test immigrants’ IQ and boot the low-scorers.

Yowza.  There is no stronger stench of bias than that. Or is there? This article from Mother Jones reveals that Richwine  credits scholar Charles Murray in the acknowledgements of his dissertation. Murray is the author of The Bell Curve, a controversial book claiming that racial differences in IQ come down to genetics.  The dissertation paints Richwine as man who believes that minorities are dumber than whites and that this is justification for exclusion.

You know who would agree?

This guy:

I could go on, but I believe you get the point.   In considering the source, I think it improbable that the data presented in the Heritage Foundation report is in any way objective and I suspect the hole-pokers will confirm this. When it comes to this study, I am firmly in the camp of the Dirty Godless Liberals.

Edit: Good thing the suggestion to IQ test immigrants wasn’t around when this man came to the U. S.

Who Ya Gonna Call? Hoax Busters!

I saw this today and got really really excited and then a bit sad as I read the article. A show about REAL Hoax Hunters could be legitimate entertainment, but it seems as though the producers are going the chickenshit route. The article did get me thinking, though. My version of Hoax Hunters would be in the same vein as Mythbusters but with a few key twists in there.  Allow me to elaborate.

1. Every episode would end with the guy from To Catch a Predator confronting the hoaxer in a kitchen and making them cry.  I would find this amusing. So would the general public. The humiliation of others is fantastic for ratings.

2. The show would a have a tipline like Unsolved Mysterious to report suspected hoaxers.

3. There would be a spin-off series called “What, You Didn’t See This Coming”  that deals specifically with psychics.

I have other ideas for shows that, if I knew anything about TV production and had million dollars, I would totally do. Live heckling of Ghost Adventures, a la’ Mystery Science Theater 3000 anyone? Anyone?

What would you like to see in an Hoax Buster show?



Ghost in the Smartphone

This is laughable. I came a cross this story in the Houston Chronicle about a woman who discovered a ghost in a smartphone photo. Please. A 3-yr. Old could reproduce the same thing with any of the multitudinous ghost apps out there for photo editing.


In which this humble blogger unknowningly encounters a beach boggart.

The article does acknowledge this possibility for fakery despite the the woman’s vehement assertion that it isn’t a fake. Yeah, right, honey.  If you didn’t fake it, your admittedly more technologically-savvy daughter did. I really wish the Chronicle would use a little more journalistic integrity when putting a spotlight on these people. Why must it be the bloggers that cry foul?  This is not even an original idea. Hardly any effort went into producing the fake. What is sad is that the Houston Chronicle spent even less effort in determining its fitness to print. A simple search would show that this type of hoax is now a bit trite.
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Waging the War Against Wikipedia Woo

I came across this interesting project in my daily review of skeptic happenings in the world and felt it was worth sharing. If you are like me, the first place you go when hearing a term you aren’t familiar with is Wikipedia. Why? Mostly because it is a quick source of information complete with links and references to more information about the topic. The articles are crowdsourced, which is a double-edged sword.  While one can’t take everything written at face value and must carefully consider the source of the information, which is referenced at the end of the article, it is also largely self-policing as it is constantly being modified by a multitude of editors from different backgrounds and expertise.  (Those who are unfamiliar with how how Wikipedia works and is policed can find more info here.)

What I find striking about this project is the ingenious concept of using the basic tenets of Wikipedia as a means of fighting pseudoscience.  Wikipedia states:

All articles must strive for verifiable accuracy, citing reliable, authoritative sources…

Sound familiar? It should. Most  hear  it first  from their middle-school English teacher.  This very concept is what makes Wikipedia naturally advantageous to real science and potentially detrimental to pseudoscience.

This tactic is multipronged in that it not only seeks to bring balance to paranormal and pseudoscientific articles by adding facts from cited, verifiable resources where previously, there were few to none, but it also serves as surveillance on articles on science, the skeptical community and noted skeptical activists to prevent vandalization. I should also note that the effort is quite clear on prohibiting vandalization in retaliation to pseudoscience in articles.

In reading more about the mechanics of how this operation works, it seems there is a underground editing war being fought underneath the pristine white pages of this popular information site and I find it fascinating that the proponents of pseudoscience that object and cry foul to the edits made by skeptics, do so in the face of  legitimate citation.  However, let me be clear. This war will never end. In my mind the beauty of this effort is not to convince the hard-core paranormalists, hacks and believers of fakery that they are wrong. Rather it is to bring balance to an information source widely-used by the general public in the hopes that the facts will speak for themselves.

This is a massive undertaking and though there is a fantastic community of volunteers around the world making this happen, there is still a need for awareness, promotion and editors all over the world. For more info on how to get involved, I recommend  reading the following page first to get a feel for how much time and effort is right for you. Additionally, Tim Farley over at Skeptools has great posts here and here on how to ease into it.

I myself will be taking a closer look at how to get involved and also look forward to hearing more about the project’s future victories.

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