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Archive for the ‘consumer skepticism’ Category

Professional Standards Among Psychics

CA PsychicsLast night, as I was falling asleep, I heard on the radio an ad I had never heard before: Click here for a link to the ad audio

It was for California Psychics, apparently a huge organization that has its hands in everything ‘psychic’. I did a little Google search and found that they’ve been around for a while, and they’ve been discussed recently, such as on the JREF forums.

The part that I find extremely fascinating from the radio spot is this line: “At California Psychics, we thoroughly test our psychics to make sure they’re professional, have real gifts and communicate clearly.” I’m not sure whether to laugh or turn my head to the side and grunt, much like a dog does when it can’t figure out what the hell is going on. Ok, I understand the professional part; you don’t want some crazy person running their mouth off to a customer like they’re in a liquor store–that drives the customer to hang up the precious pay-by-minute phone call. This goes for communicating clearly too. Nothing weird about that. Gibberish doesn’t make the money either.

But “have real gifts”? How do they even do this? How is this even verified. Some sort of committee? Do they combine their powers, ask Captain Planet if the applicant is legit, and then have a psychic party? I like how the gifts part is shoved in between two normal and regular job applicant qualities. Perhaps they were thinking, “if we throw it in the middle, people won’t hear us talking crazy on the radio”. Let’s be honest, if someone had “real gifts” don’t you think they’d be cashing in on James Randi’s generous donation to their personal psychic fund? In the ad, the woman speaking describes the process, but it is very vague and non-committal. Also, it could be an actor/fictional person. Either way, I see no real gifts.

Furthermore, at the end of the ad is an invitation for a free reading. If the reading isn’t the best I’ve ever had, it’s apparently free. Speaking for myself, that would be the case every time.

So next time you here this radio ad, remember that it is the duped paying the advertising fees.

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From Soy Feminizing to “Soy Fabulous”

Here’s a mini run-down of the woo-logic that is to follow, straight from the self-proclaimed soyologist, Jim Rutz:

Soy bean handing a dress to a boy and holding a gay pride flag.

Soy and the Boy by Jennifer Burnham

  1. Soy is very popular today.
  2. When soy is consumed, estrogen rises within your system.
  3. Elevated estrogen levels feminize you.
  4. Gay men are feminine.
  5. Pregnant women who eat a surplus of soy are feminizing their male fetuses.
  6. Male babies who admit to being gay later in life that are born from soy-eating mamas need to realize that it was from the soy.
  7. The rise of homosexuality is due to the rise of soy popularity.

How’s that for a well-developed proof of causality? According to Mr. Rutz’s “logic,” I bet if we ban soy from society, the homosexual population will die off completely and evolve out of our gene-pool; what a novel and effective solution! Let us delve into the “facts” that he gives us and dispel them, shall we?

Okay, we can go on and on about the soy and estrogen levels debate, but that is not the delicious, non-soy “meat” of this article. There is hard science out there that is currently debating the merits and dangers of soy-intake and hormone levels. I am certainly not a chemist or biologist, so I will leave it to them to dissect my edamame and decide if it should still be served at my favorite sushi restaurant or banned by the US Department of Health and Human Services. What bothers me most is the outrageous title of his article, Soy is making kids gay.

After he starts his article with claims that could sound somewhat credible regarding soy and estrogen levels, he completely loses me with this paragraph:

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That’s why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today’s rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because ‘I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t homosexual.’ No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can’t remember a time when excess estrogen wasn’t influencing them.”

Excuse me? Soy commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality? Where is the journal publication on that one, because I would love to read it. Since when does estrogen-increase cause homosexuality? And does that mean that gay men have smaller penises than straight men? I have some friends that would beg to differ, but I digress…

If Rutz wants to argue that homosexuality is directly related to estrogen levels, here’s a nice scientifically-validated review he should probably read: Sex, Cells, and Same-Sex Desire: The Biology of Sexual Preference. According to this review, there has been no reliable conclusion that estrogen levels are related to determining sexual orientation. Even more recently, there have been contradicting studies that relay differing results on the degree of testosterone levels in both types of men. Brodie, Gartrell, et al (1974) concludes that testosterone levels in gay men are higher than in heterosexual men. However, Starka, Sipova & Hynie (1975) asserts the opposite to be true.

And how does his statement of homosexuality always being “deviant” tie in to any of his previous arguments? That statement makes no contextual sense whatsoever.

Furthermore, I would also like to know where he got his statistics of homosexuality being on the rise today; I doubt he takes into consideration the notion that more homosexuals may feel comfortable with “coming out,” in our progressive society today, and therefore it may seem like there are more homosexuals now than ever before.

There is just way too much here for me to argue against and I probably should not have bothered in the first place considering his credentials stem from a non-scientific background. After all, his biography touts that he is the Founder/Chairman of Open Church Ministries, an adjunct professor at Covenant Bible Institute and a copywriter in the field of investment and alternative health.

Honestly, if I would have first checked his credentials, perhaps I wouldn’t have wasted my time blasting this guy, but rather just giggled and clicked the “x” button on my browser. But the bothersome part of this article is that it comes up on Google as a self-proclaimed scientific notion, and common folk may take it as such. That is what concerns me; and that is why I felt obliged to dispel his grandiose and ill-informed statements. Now let’s hope that my blog comes up within the same search for “soy” and “gay.”

In related news, here’s a great video clip from the award-winning documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So,” discussing the nature of homosexuality and its common misconceptions. Interestingly, a study is referenced that could be considered to be in Jim Rutz’s favor regarding hormones and fetal development. Take a look for yourself and tell me what you decide:

Homosexuality: Is it a choice?

Brodie HK, Gartrell N, Doering C, & Rhue T (1974). Plasma testosterone levels in heterosexual and homosexual men. The American journal of psychiatry, 131 (1), 82-3 PMID: 4808435

Cecco, J. P., & Parker, D. A. (1995). Sex, cells, and same-sex desire: the biology of sexual preference. Part II. Journal of homosexuality, 28 (3-4), 215-446 PMID: 7560927

Starka, L., Sipova, I., & Hynie, J. (1975). Plasma testosterone in male transsexuals and homosexuals Journal of Sex Research, 11 (2), 134-138 DOI: 10.1080/00224497509550886

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Warning Signs That Something is Not Scientific

*Some editing and language added by Barbara A. Drescher

Some people promote theories and treatments that they claim to be scientific, but are not. ResearchBlogging.orgOn this website, we often refer to such dubious claims as “woo” or pseudoscience. These often troublesome theories and treatments are widely advertised on the internet, on TV, and in the psychology or self-help sections of commercial book stores. But because some material in these venues is legitimate, it is important to know how to distinguish science from pseudoscience.

Here we provide a useful toolkit which can be used to identify pseudoscience. The following warning signs are just a rough guide and should be used with some care, because the distinction between science and pseudoscience is rarely clear-cut. Nevertheless, the more warning signs, the more suspicious of a claim you should be.

Warning signs that something is not scientific:

  1. It cannot be tested.

    Pseudoscience is often either impossible to test or excuses are made which keep it from being tested.

    In some cases, when evidence does not support the claim, instead of abandoning their ideas, pseudoscientists add conditions to their theories or explain away the evidence so that it is impossible to test the claim empirically. For example, a psychic who cannot demonstrate mind reading or other psychic feats under carefully controlled conditions in the laboratory might claim that “the skeptical vibes of experimenters” are blocking his or her psychic powers. Such an excuse makes the claim untestable.

    In other cases, pseudoscientific theories cannot be tested right from the start.

  2. The basic theory does not change in response to evidence.

    Genuine science adapts and updates its theories in response to new evidence, especially refuting evidence. In contrast, pseudoscience tends to maintain its initial claims and instead dismisses or ignores counter-evidence.

  3. The claimants avoid peer review or other outside verification.

    Peer review is the checking of scientific-journal articles by other scientists. Although it is by no means perfect, peer review is an effective, if slow, safeguard against human error. Pseudoscientists tend to avoid close scrutiny. In many cases, their descriptions of procedures and mechanisms are vague and the terms they use are undefined (e.g., “energy”). In other cases they may claim that “orthodox science” conspires against them.

  4. They only look for evidence which confirms their hypothesis.

    In science, studies are designed to disprove hypotheses, not to confirm them. This is because confirming evidence cannot tell us if the hypothesis is always true or if we have simply not seen a case in which it is false. For example, we could test the hypothesis that all birds fly by dropping birds from a bridge. We would confirm our hypothesis many times over, but we would not discover that it was wrong unless we happened to drop a chicken, penguin, or ostrich.

    Scientists look for evidence that their theories are false. Pseudoscientists, however, often look only for evidence which supports their beliefs.

  5. The claimant insists that their theory is accurate because it has not been proven wrong.

    Pseudoscientists typically say that it up to critics to disprove their claims, and until they do they should hold firmly to their beliefs. However, the burden of proof is on those making the claim.

  6. The claim defies what established science has told us about the world.

    Pseudoscientists often claim to have discovered a completely new way of looking at the world, one which requires existing scientific knowledge to be tossed out. For example, “psychic surgeons” claim to remove tumors from a patient’s abdomen without cutting the skin. This is considered an extraordinary claim as it defies the laws of nature as we know them. Such claims require extraordinary evidence.

  7. The claimants attempt to persuade using anecdotes.

    Pseudoscientists tend to rely on evidence that is testimonial – engaging and vivid personal stories. These stories are often touching and persuasive. Although such testimonies may be useful starting points in the early stages of scientific study, they rarely provide enough evidence to accept a claim. That’s because they are often difficult to verify, unrepresentative of people’s experiences, and open to alternative explanations that pseudoscientists haven’t considered.

  8. The claimants use confusing and inappropriate scientific-sounding jargon to persuade.

    Pseudoscientists sometimes use jargon which hides the lack of substance in their claims. Scientific or highly technical words are used to impress the reader and make it look like science. Technical or scientific terms are often used out of context. For example, the claim that a product regulates the flow of ions in the body is a misuse of the term “ion”, which refers to states of a molecule, not something that flows in the body.

  9. The claim has no limits.

    In science, theories are specific and treatments have limits. In contrast, pseudoscientists often claim that their theory or treatment applies to just about everything. For example, sham treatments for ADHD also claim to treat or even cure autism, learning disabilities, and other behavioral disorders even though these disorders are completely different in nature and have different causes.

  10. The claimant rejects counter-evidence from specific testing because it is not “holistic”.

    “Holistic” is often used to mean “treating the whole person.” Buyer-beware if “holistic” is used in such a way as to explain away unfavorable results, or to undermine the value of testing specific parts of the treatment or theory.

Note: These warning signs were adapted from Lilienfeld, Lynn, and Lohr (2003, pp. 5-10).

Lilienfeld, S.O., Lynn, S.J., & Lohr, J.M. (2003). Science and pseudoscience in clinical psychology: Initial thoughts, reflections and considerations In S.O. Lilienfeld, S.J. Lynn, & J.M. Lohr (Eds.), Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, 1-38

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Why ShamPOOP Might Be Better!, a website whose title assumes omniscience, allows one to discover within its health & beauty section that perhaps your hair washing habits are a waste of time, and that the effectiveness of your current shampoo brand’s molecules are sub-par at best. The sponsor of this advice, Kronos Hair Care (who strategically does not show up until the very end of this advertisement disguised as a scientific article) claims that current shampoos on the market are constructed in such a way that does not allow for the “large” shampoo molecules to penetrate our tiny hair cells and follicles. In essence, says they, we are washing all the nutrients (and our money) down the shower drain. Kronos claims that in order for us to have nutritious hair, the nutrients must get to the very roots for it to be any good and to “think about it this way—if you wanted to fertilize a plant, where would you pour the fertilizer? On the leaves? Of course not! You’d pour the fertilizer on the root and the soil where it’s needed most.”

Carvaggio's "Medusa" painting

Did Medusa ever have a good hair day?

This piqued my curiosity. Am I wasting my money on my organic green-tea mint, for color-treated hair, delicious-smelling shampoo? My hair seems rather healthy, but maybe it is a pure coincidence. Had I not ever used shampoo, but rather Dawn dish soap my whole hairy-headed life, maybe my hair would still look as averagely-luscious as it does today! So let us find out, does shampoo actually clean and nourish our hair?

According to renowned chemist Joe Schwarz, Ph.D, there is sufficient molecular evidence to support that shampoo and its molecules (although no mention of their supposed “largeness”) do a fine job of cleaning hair. But that’s where the blonde or brunette buck stops. We can get our hair clean, but since our hair is essentially dead protein, there is no zombifying or resurrecting-nutrient in this world that will bring our hair back to life again. Want to read his take on the matter via Washington Post? Check it out: Secrets of Shampoo.

Later on in this article–er, advertisement, Kronos claims to have results that “boost hair volume and body by an unprecedented 96%; increase hair hydration by 91%; improve luster and shine by 96%; reduce split ends and breakage by 96%.” Can one actually measure hair luster and shine? Where are they getting these percentages? Do they have special Luster Quality Assessors (aka LQAs) that compare one set of locks to the other in some special machine perhaps nicknamed Luster Lucy 3000? Now I am curious . . . . (after Googling for a few seconds) . . . Lo and behold, I have, at the very least found this: Development of a device to measure human hair luster. Well, I’ll be darned! However, I have yet to see any of Krono’s “results” published alongside their data set and/or methods. If they did use a Luster Lucy 3000, however, they may be onto something.

Now, whether or not Dawn dish soap or cow manure would do a similar job could prove to be an interesting experiment on its own, but one I would rather not try on my own hair. After all, Dr. Schwarcz bluntly expresses the rather morbid truth of our hair’s deadness; so why waste money on fancy shampoos that promise to essentially add nutrients to a mass of death on top of our skulls? Perhaps I am a slave to marketing and all the pretty packaging it presents, but for now I will stick with the pomegranate-scented, lather-laden stuff.

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