SGU Episode 49

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SGU Episode 49
28th Jun 2006
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SGU 48 SGU 50
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella


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Introduction

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

S: Hello and welcome to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe. This is your host, Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society. Today is Wednesday, June 28, 2006. We are having a special episode this week; the skeptical rogues are on vacation. Now, don't worry; they'll be back next week. The—actually, the only reason they are out this week is because I'm out of town, actually vacationing in the wilds of Cumberland, Maryland, which means I do not have access to broadband. Now, many of you may not realize this, but we record our show each week completely over the Internet, using Voice over IP applications. In fact, each of us, myself and all of the skeptical rogues, the entire panel of skeptics are in different cities at the time that we record. Rebecca Watson is in Boston and the rest of us are in different cities in Connecticut. So, without access to broadband, I've no way of conferencing with the other members of the show. We decided rather than skipping a week that I would do a solo show just so that we have something to hold over our loyal fans until next week. Now, the format of the show this week will be pretty similar to other shows; we have no guest and obviously no group discussion. I will still do a Science or Fiction at the end of the program. Although, of course, the panel of skeptics will not be here to offer their thoughts, but this one will be just for you. I'll also do a Name that Logical Fallacy. In addition, I will also give the answer to last week's skeptical puzzle and give a new skeptical puzzle.

Questions and Emails (2:02)

But the bulk of this show, I decided to get caught up on all of the great emails that we get. I'll take this opportunity to thank our listeners once again for sending in so many great questions and emails. We certainly do appreciate the feedback, the constructive criticism which helps us improve our show. And the questions are great topics for discussion. In fact, we have so many good emails now that we can only touch on a small percentage of them on the show. So I figured this week I would get caught on some of our better email questions. So let's get right to them.

Darwin's "Theory" of Evolution. (2:40)

The first email comes from Curt Nelson from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Curt writes:

Dear Skeptics,


Im an avid listener. Thanks for your show. In listening to your recent podcast on evolution 101, I heard you (Steve)

—that's me, the host—

say something I think really confuses people who want to understand evolution. You referred to the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution, and I know what you meant by that, but I'm sure its confusing to a lot of people. Maybe it even sounds wishy-washy to those who tend to be sympathetic to creationism. When anyone discusses Darwins theory of evolution, a couple of things should be defined up-front:
1) Evolution is a fact things do evolve (but without changing into a new species, as far as has been observed).
2) Darwin's theory is that evolution causes speciation, and is the mechanism that produced all the magnificent life we know, starting from bacteria. This is a huge leap from the fact of evolution. (For what its worth, I believe this.) Keep up the good work.
Sincerely yours,

Curt

Well, Curt, this is a topic that does come up quite frequently when discussing evolution, especially in the context of creationism. Creationists are wont to say that evolution is quote-unquote "only a theory", although I'm usually fairly careful in referring to the fact versus the theory of evolution, and I do take exception to the way that Curt defines it in his email. Now, this has been pointed out in many venues before, but I will take time to go over this briefly. The word "theory" as used by scientists is different than the way it is used colloquially by the public at large. Typically the word "theory" is used to refer to a guess or a speculation or assumption, but scientists use it to refer to an explanatory system; an idea or a unifying concept that brings together multiple lines of evidence, multiple phenomenon into one ex— one cohesive explanatory system. It doesn't really say anything about how much evidence there is for or against the theory. A theory can, in fact, range the spectrum from discredited to highly speculative to established beyond all reasonable doubt. I would characterize the theory of evolution as being established sufficiently to be considered a scientific fact, meaning over a very long period of time—150 years, about—it has withstood any attempt at falsifying it, and there have been many potential ways in which evolutionary theory could have been falsified. There have been numerous independent lines of evidence all validating the theory of evolution to such a high degree, and we have reviewed many of them on this show before. For example, fossil evidence, transitional fossils, morphological pattern of species occurring in an evolutionary pattern of relatedness, the molecular is, I think, the most profound and is irrefutably shows all life on Earth is not only related to each other but is related to each other in a branching evolutionary pattern. So, evolutionary theory deserves the label of established scientific fact, which means it's the best explanation we have for now. I will also further point that within the over-arching theory of evolution, there are several sub-theories that are worth mentioning, and often we talk theories within evolution, we're talking about one of three kinds of theories. 1, there are theories of mechanism, meaning how does evolution come about? Now, Darwin's theory is—refers specifically to the mechanism of survival of the fittest, or differential survival based up adaptive characteristics. Or, you can also state it as natural selection acting upon variation within populations. That's Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest, which is, again, just one kind of theory within evolution. The other kind of theory are theories that refer to the tempo and pace of evolution. For example, how do species, populations, and ecosystems change over geological time? Darwin's theory of tempo is known as Darwinian Gradualism, which is the idea that all species pretty much are changing slowly and imperceptably all the time. This idea, this sort of Darwinian Gradualism still has its adherents, but there are competing newer theories such as the theory of puncuated equilibrium first proposed by Stephen Gould and Niles Eldrige. This competing theory says that species are stable most of the time and that this equilibrium, this stability is punctuated by brief, geologically brief, meaning five to fifty thousand years, episodes of rapid evolution and speciation. So, and in fact, creationists have exploited disagreements about these subsets of theories of evolution to—and misinterpreted them as doubt about the overall theory of whether or not things in fact evolved or not. The third type of theory is theories of relation; what's related to what; what evolved from what? For example, the notion that birds evolved from theropod dinosaurs, which fit under this category. And again, that is perhaps the most speculative part of evolution at this point in time. We have a very incomplete puzzle of the history of the tree of life, of evolutionary life or phylogenetic relationships. And again, the ideas about what evolved into what are changing all the time, almost every time we pull a new, previously unknown fossil out of the ground, it's changing our picture of this pattern that, in fact, occurred. That's kind of a long answer, but that essentially, in a nutshell, is—are the fact of evolution versus the theories of evolution.

Agnosticism (9:03)

E-mail #2 discusses a very different issue. This one comes from Donald Flood who gives his location only as the USA. Donald writes,

If the empirical evidence for the existence of God is no greater than the empirical evidence for Invisible Pink Unicorns, is it logical to be agnostic with respect to the existence of God yet "atheistic" towards the existence of IPUs?



Donald Flood

USA

Well, Donald, the short answer to your question is yes. It would be illogical to be agnostic towards god and atheistic towards invisible pink unicorns and that is not, in fact, my position nor have I ever heard anyone specifically espouse that position so I think that's a bit of a straw man but it's based upon a very common misunderstanding that I get all the time. I do advocate personally an agnostic position towards claims which are not falsifiable. Claims which lie outside of the realm of science. So, and again, we have covered some of this ground before but again let me encapsulate the position that I take with regards to agnosticism. What that basically mean–and this is the sense that T. H. Huxley who actually invented, or coined, the term agnosticism to refer to his own beliefs–Agnosticism means that there are certain questions which cannot by their very nature ever be known or they cannot be explored scientifically. There is no way you could possibly validate or falsify them, therefore they are forever outside the realm of knowledge in the scientific sense and Huxley concluded that they're therefore outside the realm of anything that can meaningfully be considered knowledge. So, one can only say about that, if one were taking a consistent, logical, scientific approach, that it's unknowable. You can't know that it is true but neither can you know that it isn't true. Further, extrapolating from this you could say that there's no point in believing in any proposition which is unknowable because there are an infinite number of unknowable propositions. It's limited really only by your creativity but you could sit around and weave un-falsifiable notions all day long. None of them will ever be known and that's all that really you can say about them. Any belief in un-falsifiable notions is by definition faith and faith is therefor, by definition, outside of the realm of science and personally I choose not to have a arbitrary belief either for or against such notions and to me it's sufficient to say they're unknowable and unknowable notions are of not value to human knowledge. So that is where it reasonably ends. So therefor I would say I am agnostic toward the existence of invisible pink unicorns or any other fantastical notion that you want to come up with such as, to paraphrase a recent book, flying spaghetti monsters.

Gerald Schroeder on God (12:05)

Let's go on to e-mail #3. This one also is about belief in God. This one comes from Luke from Indiana. Luke writes,

Skeptics,

I have just recently found your podcast after listening to quite a few "paranormal/ufo/etc" podcasts for quite a while. I would consider myself, probably much like most people who are interested in these subject matters, an interested skeptic--I love considering the possibilities of these unusual subjects, but am not about to agree to something without proof.

On your most recent podcast, one of the major discussions was about evolution versus intelligent design. I have read several books by Gerald L. Schroeder, a MIT graduate with a Ph.D. in Physics and a Talmudic scholar. His books have, in my limited opinion, the most well thought out argument for the possibility of a God. I was wondering if any if any of the podcast members were familiar or had read any of his books on the subject?

In my personal experience, most real-life disagreements and arguements are not as simple as: one person or side is right and the other is wrong. His approach to the ID vs. big bang theories is not to show fallacies of one or the other, but instead to look for similarities and convergences of them. Regardless of one's particular disposition to either "side," I think his material is well-thought out, interesting, and worth considering.

I would love to hear something about these books on your podcast and your, skeptical, opinions about the subject.

Thanks and keep up the interesting podcast,

Luke

Indiana, USA

Well, Luke, I confess I have not read the entire book. The most recent one is called The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder, although I have read significant excerpts from it and several reviews of it. The most, I think, complete review was written by Frank Sonnleitner who is Professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of Oklahoma and we'll have the link to his review on our notes page. Basically, I think the problem with Schroeder's approach, and other's have taken a similar approach is that it begins with the assumption that there's no conflict between faith and science, specifically faith in God, in the Judeo-Christian God in this particular instance, and science and then proceeds from there. However, it never really justifies or establishes that assumption in the first place and therefor if that becomes a false major premise everything that follows from that is invalid. And I think that's the pitfall that he is falling into. You did state, I think, quite reasonably that in most real life disagreements or arguments it's not as simple as one person or side is completely right and the other side is completely wrong and I agree with that in that. In most situations that is true. I think that the most reasonable position usually lies between two extremes and there's usually both valid and invalid points on both sides in any argument or disagreement. However, that's not always the case. There are some times when side is making a profound systematic error in their approach or is following or proceeding from a invalid premise and therefor everything on that side is wrong and I think that the creationism evolution debate is one such issue. Evolution is a science and unbiased scientists I think are largely correct in their approach to evolution–in their approach and their evaluation of the evidence and the conclusions that they draw from that. Creationists, whether that's intelligent design or classic creationism are following from a very biased premise that evolution must be wrong because of their faith in creation and everything–every argument that flows from that point that they make is invalid and I have read extensively of the creationist literature, we've discussed much of it on this podcast over the months and they are a textbook of logical fallacies. They really don't have a single valid argument to make. So, it is one of those rare situations where I feel very strongly that one side, the creationist side, is in fact completely wrong. If there is a valid argument to be made on that side I have yet to hear it despite exposing myself very avidly to the arguments from the creationist side. Regarding some of the specifics of The Science of God by Gerald Schroeder again I'll refer back to the very good review written by Frank Sonnleitner–and he starts by saying that basically that this is an elaboration of Schroeder's prior book Genesis and the Big Bang. Basically, Schroeder is not being fair with the scientific evidence. He, in fact–He accepts the standard geological and paleontological history of the earth but rejects evolution. He draws the line at evolutionary connections between the higher categories. For example, different classes or different phyla. Therefor–So he allows for some evolution to occur at a local level but disagrees with connections between major forms which, of course, means that God had to, or something, some force had to create the basic forms of life and then evolution occurred within those basic forms. This is the old micro macro evolution argument that creationists have put forward. The problem with that is that there's no operational definition of what is micro versus macro evolution or why evolution would be able to create some degree of morphological change but not a greater degree. Why could allow for variations within classes but not the origin of the different classes of types of animals. He also makes a very classic creationist argument of rejecting evolution because he considers that the mechanism, natural selection, to be the result of pure chance. And again he commits the creationist logical fallacy of saying that life on earth is so complex what's the change–the probability of it occurring by chance alone is too remote and therefor we must invoke some kind of willful force. But this is looking at probability the wrong way. We, in fact, have another question on this so I'm going to come back to this a little bit later in the show. So, basically, I am not very fond of Schroeder's arguments. I think that he commits a lot of the core logical fallacies of creationists. I think he's trying to force a fit between science and Christian faith, Judeo-Christian faith, when in fact to the extent that that faith contradicts the findings of science, I think, that they just directly conflict and there is no way to resolve them. The only way to resolve them is to keep faith in it's proper realm which means dealing with the unknowables, and not to violate anything which is within the realm of science. Anything that could be investigated scientifically.

Magnets for Migraines (19:30)

Okay we're going to shift gears a little bit here and take a couple of e-mails dealing with–in the medical realm. E-mail #4 comes from Anthony Petruccione. That could be pronounced Petruchioni, would be the more Italian pronunciation, from Texas. Anthony writes,

While looking over today's news articles I spotted this article about a new magnet based device for the treatment of migraines.

I'm not sure at all of the scientific vorasity of using magnets to treat pain, but I can add that my father did have some success using a magnetic bracelet to treat arthritis.

Mostly i'm linking to the article to spark a discussion. Since you have people on hand with some real knowledge of medicine it would be interesting to hear what you've read from the medical literature.

Though the linked article dosen't go into great detail the price seems rather staggering for a large magnet. 1000 pounds could buy quite a stack of rare earth magnets.

To the truest definition of the term, i'm skeptical. I'd love to hear everyone discuss this and hope some good information is drawn out of the discussion.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/health/healthmain.html?in_article_id=391915&in_page_id=1774&in_a_source=

Anthony Petruccione
Texas

Well, Anthony, unfortunately you won't get a full panel discussion of this issue but this is something about which I am personally very familiar so I will tackle it myself. First, I want to back up just a little bit and give some background information on what we mean by scientific research within the medical context. There are different levels of evidence within medicine. In fact, in the last 10 to 20 years there has been a movement known as evidence based medicine which has sought, basically, to standardize the evaluation of the degree of evidence for different clinical decisions and to put in the hands of clinicians, people making medical decisions, a objective assessment of the level of evidence that there is to support any particular claim. It's an excellent movement. There are some weaknesses to it. In fact I think the big weakness is that they rely exclusively on evidence and they specifically do not consider scientific plausibility and I think that that's a mistake, but as far as it goes it is extremely helpful. I'll review very quickly some basic different levels of evidence. Typically, when any new concept comes about, a new claim, whether it's based on anecdote or extrapolating from basic science research et cetera or someone just says, "Hey. Maybe A will or cure B. Let's check it out." Initially, what will be done are preliminary, or so called pilot studies. Pilot studies are very small usually involving less than 100 patients, even maybe as few as 10 subjects. They're often open label, meaning that there's no placebo control group, there's no blinding, and they're basically given to a number of patients just to get a basic feel for how they respond. Are there any major obvious side effects? Do they seem to have a positive response? The point of pilot studies is not to base definitive claims. They are purely to see whether or not this will be a productive avenue for further research. I think using these levels of evidence in order to support a clinical claim is misguided almost to the point of fraud. But, be that as it may, it is useful as a preliminary type of evidence. The second level of evidence is when you start to do some placebo control. You will compare people taking the treatment to people taking a placebo. It may or may not be open label or there may be some blinded and the numbers are usually more than in pilot study. Here we may have dozens of patients, maybe a couple of hundred patients depending on how rare the disease is and follow for a significant period of time. At least weeks if not months, longer depending–again, depending on what is being studied. Here we get to start to get some real idea about whether or not a treatment has any significant side effects. Whether or not all things considered people on the treatment do better than placebo, but still this data should not be considered definitive or conclusive. Again, the point of this really is just to see if it's worth while to go on to the next stage which is the more definite stage of research and this is when you have a large study, multi-center, prospective, meaning that you separate people into control and treatment groups before they get their treatments. You're not looking back at what people did. You're splitting them up and then either putting them on the placebo or on the treatment. That's important because that allows you to control for a lot of variables that might be interfering with the results. These studies are typically double blinded, meaning that the subjects do not know if their getting the placebo or the treatment and that the people running the study, especially those who are evaluating the subjects to see what their outcome is, also do not know if their getting the placebo or the treatment. These can be, if they're large multi-center trials, they can be fairly definitive, but even with these types of trials usually the medical community would like to see 2 or 3 of them. Some replication before saying, "Yep. This is pretty well established that this is a safe and effective treatment for this indication." That's considered the highest level of evidence. In fact, in this country in the United States, if you apply for–to the FDA to try to get a new drug on the market you have to apply for what's called an IND, an Investigational New Drug permit and then–before you can subject people to this drug you need to do preliminary basic science research and animal research to show basically that this is safe and the chance that it's going to kill people is at least relatively small. Then you break the clinical trials, or human trials, into phases. Phase 1 trials are small studies usually in healthy volunteers just looking at how the drug handles the body and how the body handles the drugs and screening for basic side effects. Then there are phase 2 trials where you're getting more safety data, you're starting for the first time look at actual outcomes to see if people are getting better. And then if all of that is positive and no problems are cropping up then you can do the phase 3 definitive trials. There's actually, in fact, phase 4 trials which are post marketing research to see if there are any less common safety issues come up now that hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions of people are being exposed to the drug. Things may crop up that were missed in the trials. But even–not in the context of FDA trials, basically those same phases are followed in doing research. Now doing all of this research takes about a decade, at least. At least a decade. But when you're not within the context of regulations, for example with supplements in this country, or with things like magnets that aren't drugs–people can sell magnets, then often what we see are preliminary studies which are not definitive, should not be used to base claims, they almost always show some positive result because if it's an open label trial there's no placebo control even a pure placebo effect will seem positive so it's very common for these–the smaller initial trials to have a significant bias towards positive results. Also there's a huge file drawer effect where we just tend not to hear about the negative studies. We only tend to hear about the positive studies. So taking all that into consideration we're likely to get some preliminary positive results that's not reliable and yet those get conveyed to the public and often marketers will use those preliminary studies to say, "See this supplement or device works for these symptoms." And it will take 10 years to really proceed to the more definitive trials and do the analysis of phase 3 data and it may later be found that those–that the device or the supplements do not work but by that time companies marketing the devices have had years to develop a customer base and often people don't hear about the definitive phase 3 trials. For example, a lot of people believe the Echinacea is useful for colds and the initial, positive, small pilot studies were very aggressively marketed to the public. But then the large, phase 3, definitive trials were done and Echinacea is absolutely worthless for treating the symptoms of any infectious disease, of the common cold in particular. But most people don't know about that and when I, in fact, inform patients of that, for example, they've never heard of it. They've never heard that the data shows it doesn't work. The same is true of Ginkgo biloba and cognitive function or St. John's wort and depression. All have large, definitive trials that were completely negative and that made very little impact on the public consciousness. Magnets, it's basically the same thing but we're in the earlier stage of research. The phase 1 type of studies with magnets. First of all with magnet therapy there have been a number of speculative mechanisms put forward as to how magnets might work. The most common one that I hear is that the magnetic field improves blood flow and that the improved blood flow to the tissue increases healing and relieves symptoms. That mechanism, as well as every other proposed mechanism by which magnets–it's been proposed that magnets might work, has been shown to be false. Magnetic fields do not improve blood flow. Some people say, "Well, it's attracting the iron in the blood." Well, the iron in the blood is non-ferromagnetic. It does not respond to a magnetic field. Most of the magnets that are on the market have a very weak magnetic field or they may use alternating magnetic currents in order to get a stronger field but at the same time they get a much shallower magnetic field. Many do not penetrate, significantly, the wrappings around the magnet nor do they get through the skin. To date there is no compelling, carefully conducted evidence that magnets are useful for the treatment of arthritis or of pain. There is no evidence to show that they are useful for the treatment of migraines, nor is there any plausible mechanism that has been proposed by which they might work for the treatment of migraines. I think most magnetic devices come wrapped in bandages and if you put a bandage around you tennis elbow that has a magnet in it, it's probably the bandage that's helping the tennis elbow and the magnets are incidental. In addition to that there is, of course, the placebo effect which has numerous psychological factors including risk justification and then the simple desire to get better that all tend make people believe that such interventions work. So, bottom line, there's no evidence nor plausible mechanism by which to argue that magnets are useful for treating any symptom or disease and certainly not for migraines.

Regulating Supplements (30:20)

The next e-mail is a somewhat related question. This one is about regulating supplements. This comes from Sir Mildred Pierce who gives his location as Antarctica. I did, in fact, e-mail back Sir Pierce to ask if he really is in Antarctica. He has not responded, yet, but if he is truly from Antarctica that would mean that we have listeners in all 7 continents and Sir Mildred, of course, would be the first one to e-mail us from Antarctica, so thank you. He writes,

On your most recent podcast you mentioned the US has the worst regulations when it comes to herbs and "suppliments". I would argue, as a skeptic, that perhaps the US has the best regultions, since that nation has the most unregulated rules. I think skeptics should eschew government intervention and regulation. Don't you feel that if the government is always jumping in and saying what is and what isn't safe that people in the long run will become less skeptical about these things on their own and will pretty much trust that everything on the market is safe, since everything on the market is regulated?

Sir Mildred Pierce
Antarctica

Well, that is an excellent question that deserves a very thoughtful answer. For background, I think it's worth noting, that there is a significant overlap between the libertarian, anti-regulation community and the skeptical and there certainly is a lot to be said for some libertarian ideals from a skeptical point of view. I know we've commented before on this show that Penn & Teller, for example, on their show–their Showtime show Bullshit! sometimes espouse libertarian political opinions and I think that that gets intermixed with their skeptical opinions. And most of the time, in fact, I agree with them, although, I do think that the extreme libertarian position is not logical and not justified and this is why. First of all, when you say that a market should be unregulated that assumes that market forces will produce a better outcome than government regulation. I would agree that logic and evidence, especially historical evidence, strongly favors that–the opinion that most markets in fact do better when they are unregulated by the government. When you in fact let market forces allow a natural equilibrium emerge from a bottom up type of self regulation and that most markets are too complex for a government to regulate from the top down. I think, in my personal opinion history would support that and I do think that the evidence, to that extent, favors leaving markets unregulated. But I don't think that you can say, "Therefor that is true in every single market" and that government regulation is always bad. I think that that is an argument ad absurdum in a way. With respect to medicine in particular we have the say, "What would market forces produce?" And what are those market forces and are they superior to some common sensical regulations that could be imposed. In fact, in this country, in the United States, since the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 which deregulated supplements we have now have 12 years of experience to compare drugs, which are very highly regulated by the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States, and supplements which are completely unregulated. And we can say, "Let's compare these two markets and see what government regulation has wrought compared to the free market system." What we have in the free market system–the unregulated supplements in the last 12 years has been an absolute explosion of marketing of these things. Now, normally when you have a vast increase the marketing of any product that leads to competition and better products and better things for the consumer. Greater efficiency, more choices, better quality. But is that really true in medicine? That would imply that consumers are choosing their supplements based upon the quality of the supplements. For example, whether or not they really work. However, I would argue, that the evidence strongly shows that anecdotal evidence, which means the individual experience of people taking supplements, is completely unreliable. That that personal experience–except for extreme immediate side effects–that for the most part our personal experience with medical interventions is anecdotal and therefor highly misleading. In fact, I think the evidence strongly shows that anecdotes lead us to conclusions we wish to be true, not conclusions which are true. So that means that the consumer really has no way of driving an increase in quality. They have no way of choosing which supplements are better than others because all they have is their own personal anecdotal experience to go upon. Maybe the anecdotal experience of other people that they know, but that is completely misleading. Only very carefully accumulated statistical evidence really has way of discerning supplements that work from supplements that do not work. Therefor I would argue that market forces would not drive quality within a market such as supplements. Further, what people do tend to gravitate to are claims which meet their hopes and expectations, which means, if anything, market forces are encouraging greater and greater and more sensationalistic and more hopeful claims on the part of supplement marketers and that is in fact what we have seen. More supplements with more fantastical claims without any quality control. Without any, arguably, any actual beneficial effect to the consumer. In fact what we have seen is the marketing of specific supplements completely explode based upon the claims that are made for those supplements, such as ones that I've mentioned at the previous e-mail, Echinacea, Ginkgo biloba, St. John's Wort, to name a few, and yet when studies were done, and these were studies which were done by the government, done by the NIH, the National Institutes of Health, to look at whether or not these supplements actually work, it found out that they don't work. And that didn't really significantly impact the market that much because the market has been pretty much totally cut off from the scientific evidence. So therefor–the other argument that I've heard, the other sort of libertarian anti-regulation argument made is that, "Well, a Consumer Reports or other agencies, whether it's the government or academics or private investigating agencies will look at these products, will in form the consumers which ones have better quality than the others and that will drive quality within the market." But we've seen that that's not the true. That's not what happens. In fact, marketing of these things which don't work happily continues despite–in the face of negative evidence. So, my position, based upon the experience with these various markets is that companies should be given the burden of proving that their products are safe and effect prior to marketing. In fact the other factor here is that doing biomedical research is hard work. It takes a lot of money. Companies in a deregulated market have absolutely zero incentive to do the research. In fact research is a lose lose proposition for companies in a deregulated market. They have to spend the money to do the research. The research has the potential to show that the product is either unsafe or doesn't work which can only have the effect of decreasing sales, decreasing the marketing of that product. Again, it may not have a dramatic impact on it, but it certainly is not going to help. And if the research shows that it does work it probably won't help because the company's already marketing it with the claims that it does work. So, if you can basically make claims that a product works without doing the research, doing research is a lose lose proposition. So deregulation has completely removed any incentive from the private sector to do any kind of research in these supplements. It's only being done in government funded or academically initiated studies. Even if you take the basic libertarian anti-regulation view, you have to apply it to specific markets and make an individualized decision based upon the market forces that actually exist in that market and based upon our real life experience with what happens with deregulation versus regulation. Also, we can't assume that all regulation is bad. There is rational regulation, like, what I think exists in Australia, for example, and irrational regulation which is like what I think exists in the United States. It's not–you shouldn't make the false dichotomy of bad regulation versus no regulation. It's possible that there's a third alternative and that is actually rational and effective regulation. But that must be done very, very carefully.

Neuroethics (39:17)

Hey guys this question is mainly for Steve since Neurology is right up his alley. What do you know about this new field called "Neuroethics" that I continully hear about. A great quote defining what is Neuroethics by Michael Gazzaniga author of "The Ethical Brain" is "the examination of how we want to deal with the social issues of disaease, normality, mortality, lifestyle, and the philosophy of living informed by our understanding of underlying brain mechanisms" In his opinion "It is-or should be-an effort to come up with a brain-based philosophy of life. They also bring up questions such as "When is a fetus considered a person?" and "When is it moral to end a braindead person's life?" They also question "What truely is "Free Will"? He argues that we are not a ghost in the machine per se. But that we are our brains and that me, self, and I are simply illusions. That The illusion is feed by 6 characteristics working in harmony. To me morals are obviously part of the human condition, and where and why in the mind humans evolved morals is still under questioning.

Elias Luna Bronx, NY

Name that Logical Fallacy (44:51)

Thanks again for a very informative podcast. I would like your help understanding the logical fallacies you might apply to improperly used "what are the odds" arguments. For example, religious fundamentalists often absolutely mangle statistics when they come up with their "what are the odds" arguments about our "special place in the heavens." Specifically, I'm not talking about the false premise of randomness so much as the looking backwards and being amazed at the improbability of an outcome after it as occurred. What logical fallacies might you apply here, other than simple math ignorance, since you could apply the same logic to flipping a coin 100 times, noting the odds of getting the exact sequence, and declaring it therefore a miracle.

Thanks! Marty Steitz Forest Lake, MN

Science or Fiction (48:38)

Item number 1: University of Minnesota urologists have researched ways to reduce the vexing problem of kidney stone formation in astronauts. Item number 2: NY University at Buffalo researchers, reviewing data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, found that, contrary to prior belief, wearing seatbelts did not significantly reduce the risk of fatality in an automobile accident. Item number 3: A team of researchers at the University of Alberta have patented a device that uses ultrasound to regrow teeth.

Skeptical Puzzle (56:25)

Last Week's puzzle:

Two men, both were freemasons: Man A invented an instrument that Man B used as part of a pseudoscience that he invented.

Man A also famously debunked the claims of Man B.

Who were the two men, and what was the instrument?

Answer: The two men were Benjamin Franklin and Franz Anton Mesmer; the instrument was the glass armonica.


New Puzzle:

In the old game show, Let's Make A Deal, contestants were asked to pick which of three doors they thought contained a valuable prize. Once the contestant picked a door, the host, Monty Hall, would often open one of the two doors not chosen and then ask the contestant if they would like to change their pick to the other door left unopened. The question is, should a contestant stick with their original choice, change to the other door, or there is no difference statistically?


S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by the New England Skeptical Society. For information on this and other podcasts, please visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Please send us your questions, suggestions, and other feedback; you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website, or you can send us an email to info@theskepticsguide.org. 'Theorem' is produced by Kineto and is used with permission.


References


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