Meanwhile, In Cow Piss News…, just yesterday, ran a story on a new health drink, made from cow urine. It’s been slightly updated, with mentions of a 2012 and a 2013 rat studies, but the main story is something we’ve seen before, back in 2009. Most of the quotes in yesterday’s article are actually from ’09.

As is this little jingle, for when the ad campaign gets rolling:

I don’t like the taste of Pepsi,
I don’t like the taste of Coke;
Dr. Pepper’s not the drink for me right now.
7-up and Sprite are dreadful
Every Root Beer is a joke;
What I really want is urine. From a cow.

If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!
If you think the taste of piss is bliss, it only costs a buck!
If you want to float your kidneys, you can buy it by the truck—
If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!

I don’t want to drink the Kool-Aid
I don’t want a mug of juice;
I don’t even want a tall glass of iced tea.
I’d really hate a cold V-8—
That’s vegetable abuse—
What I really want’s a cup of bovine pee!

If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!
If you think the taste of piss is bliss, it only costs a buck!
If you want to float your kidneys, you can buy it by the truck—
If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!

It’s a cure for diabetes,
It’s the finest healer known—
You will never need another drink than this!
In the battle of the soft drinks
This elixir stands alone,
And I guarantee it really tastes like piss!

If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!
If you think the taste of piss is bliss, it only costs a buck!
If you want to float your kidneys, you can buy it by the truck—
If you like the taste of urine, you’re in luck!

This Bullshit Is Brought To You By The Letter “A”

A is for Alligator—look at that bite!
A is Albino—he’s totally white
A, Acupuncture; let’s poke him with pins
A, Anecdotal; the evidence spins
A is for Alt-Med, which doesn’t do shit…
A is for Asshole: I hope she gets bit.

Via the Beeb, a story (with video I can’t embed here, but he’s a cute little guy) of an albino alligator being treated with acupuncture at a Brazilian zoo. And for the record the “asshole” in the last line is me–if I am objecting to an alligator getting its jaw taped shut and pins stuck all down its backside (which you’re damn right I’m objecting to), it is a bit of an asshole move to cheer on the hypothetical alligator-bite injury of someone who is just (sincerely, I believe) trying to help.

The acupuncturist is not evil; she thinks she’s helping. The evidence strongly suggests that there is nothing beyond a placebo effect in acupuncture (or an expectancy effect in the case of animal acupuncture). It’s not easy to have double blind acupuncture, but the most methodologically sound studies I have seen have shown no difference between the “real” and control conditions (whether sham needles or wrong needle placement). My favorite report of this, though, came from an alternative magazine my sister sent me–it claimed that not only did acupuncture work, but so did sham acupuncture! (In other words, there is a significant placebo effect–and placebo is much different from “no effect”–but nothing beyond that.)

So I am not really angry with the acupuncturist. She’s trying to help. It’s the superstructure of alt-med pseudoscience that allows people to poke with needles, give sugar pills or distilled water, wave their hands vaguely, or think happy thoughts, and think they are helping. “But it can’t hurt–anything is better than nothing!”, I have heard… but there are people foregoing real cancer treatments (with their nasty side effects because the medicine is actually doing something) to gamble their lives on this institutionalized fraud.

Some Thoughts On Faith-Healing

… because I saw The Atheist Pig’s cartoon today. It takes something I don’t have to be able to convey so much in 4 panels with simple drawings.

Anyway, it reminded me of an old verse of mine:

(Every word of this is true.)

A friend of mine, some thirty years ago,
The eldest son, a farming family’s pride,
Was gone from school, about a month or so
Before we heard the truth—the boy had died.

He’d fallen from a tractor in a field,
Though whether he was dead first, we don’t know;
The coroner’s exam? Too late to yield
An answer; there was nothing it could show.

His parents tried to cure the boy with prayer–
They brought him home, and put their son to bed.
Devout and faithful, hope turned to despair;
It broke their hearts, admitting he was dead.

Their church—to whom they turn when times are rough—
Blamed them, and said they had not prayed enough.

Now, from the comments there, I have to include here another bit–I could edit it to make it a bit clearer, but I’d rather not take the time today.

oddly enough, what is bothering me right now is that I cannot remember his name. For some reason, that really saddens me. I remember his sister was named Sarah; I had a real crush on her. He had a younger brother too, who was also my friend; the younger brother was going to be the first in the family ever to go to college, until my friend died. The younger brother understood that it would now be his duty, as it was to be his brother’s, to stay and take over the running of the farm.Brother and sister both kept going to school for the month while their brother, my friend, lay dead in his bed. They simply did not talk about it; I am sure they must have been asked where he was. Perhaps they just said he was sick… it was 30 and a bit years ago, so details are fuzzy.This was a good family. Nobody deserves something like this, but it is particularly hard when the family is this good, and so reliant on their faith, and their church takes their devotion and uses it to crucify them.Podblack, you know that I am absolutely of the belief that one can be a skeptic and be religious. Skepticism is a process, not a result; the results you get from critical thinking will (and must) depend on the available evidence. This family was doing what they fully believed was right. They were not stupid; they were not gullible; they were not bad. They were fed lies, from people who had earned their trust.And dammit, he deserves for me to remember his name.

What I’m wondering today is, how many of us have some similar story, of a friend or relative? I lost an office-mate to ovarian cancer; toward the end, she got all sorts of advice, and took most of it (just in case), no matter how bizarre it seemed (“drink everything out of a blue glass”). My sister turns to her prayer groups (fortunately, also to her doctor) for her many illnesses.

With my friend, it was really by accident that we learned the truth; his family wouldn’t have broadcast the information. With my office-mate, you had to be close enough to be one of the people she opened up to (quick test–did she feel she had to put her scarf back on and cover her bald head? If so, you’ll never hear all the details) to know how many desperate cures she was willing to try, and how many more she turned down (she had no shortage of people telling her to quit chemo, but chemo is what bought her more years with her young son).

In other words, the cases we know about are not the full picture. But how many do we know? How many do you know?

Olympic Placebos

The reality’s hard to escape:
It’s just sticky and bright-colored crepe.
It’s absurd, or it’s funny;
It’s made lots of money—
The placebo, Kinesio Tape

Just a few observations, prompted by a post on NPR’s Health Blog and by my observations of the US Olympic trials.

That brightly colored tape adorning the shoulders, legs, and abs of so many Olympians… oh, hell, I’ll say it–it’s a placebo. The NPR piece implies it, but won’t go out on that limb. There is plenty of profit motive behind the tape–which, of course, means that there would be all the more reason for them to highly publicize the research that proves it is more than placebo… and what we get instead are endorsements by athletes.

We’ve seen this before, of course, with various bracelets, with copper, or holograms, or magnets (actually, only click on those if you really doubt that they exist–these snake-oil sales-weasels don’t need you to give them hits. Search for the terms instead, and add “double-blind” to your search terms, and a vastly different story emerges). At the US trials, I saw another placebo, the “cold laser“, which also has tons of accolades and endorsements, but no double-blind experimental support. At the US trials, a behind-the-scenes peek showed us a “laser”(to my eye, it looked like a set of LEDs) being used while the athlete’s warmup suit was still on–I want to see the data on how much light penetrated the suit, let alone any significant layers of skin. The claims, though, were far-reaching, in terms of how much this treatment could balance the athlete’s energies, etc. etc. etc.

Thing is… The better an athlete is, the more chance they have to superstitiously associate some arbitrary event or object with competitive success. The thing about Olympians is, they tend to win (at least in the qualifying meets–otherwise they would not be Olympians). If every member of the trial squad was wearing their secret super-spy decoder ring, the winner is the one who gets to say it contributed to her or his success. (For one of the best presentations of the science here, see Stuart Vyse’s book “Believing in Magic: the Psychology of Superstition”)

Ah,but… the other thing is… even when some pre-performance ritual is superstitious, it can have very real effects on performance. “Placebo” is not at all the same as “no effect”. I would rather my favorite athletes be aware that their success is their own, and not the result of some bracelet, light, tape, or intercessory prayer. But I know my favorite athletes are human, and, as humans, are apt to be influenced by superstitious conditioning. It’s not foolish, it’s perfectly understandable… it’s just wrong.

Burzynski The Bold (A Ballad)

Some folks would give up; Some folks would just quit,
When they look for three decades, but only find shit.
But some can make hay from a whole lot of zero…
Like Dr Burzynski, the medical hero.

Though his method is lacking empirical proof
Looking less like a treatment and more like a spoof
That won’t stop Burzynski, the brave and the bold—
He’ll do as he wishes, and not as he’s told!

When your data are meager, then there go your grants,
But Burzynski the Bold doubled down, took a chance:
“I’ll charge all my patients exorbitant fees,
And I’ll make up the difference, as quick as you please!”

Now, some wouldn’t do this; some people have morals—
But Dr. Burzynski, he didn’t have quarrels;
He overcharged bravely, where others might quail;
His ethics and morals were boldly for sale.

He kept at his work, like that battery bunny,
And lied to his patients and sucked up their money
“It’s legal, of course,” he explained with a smile
“This isn’t a treatment, but merely a trial”

He isn’t a weasel, as stories depict him—
Oh, no! He’s a hero, as well as a victim;
He’s willing to take the unpopular path
Like boldly stand up to a teenager’s wrath—

A boy, armed with nothing but brains and the truth
Makes people think twice, ere they threaten the youth;
But Dr. Burzynski? That’s not what he did
(Thinking twice, he did not; he did threaten the kid)

Burzynski the Bold found a lawyer with teeth
(Some feed at the bottom—he feeds underneath)
Who threatened the lad, saying “cease and desist!”
But there’s something the lawyer, it seems, may have missed:

On the internet, smart kids have plenty of friends;
You can threaten him, sure, but that’s not where it ends;
So Dr. Burzynski, the kid may be young…
But mess with a wasps’ nest—you’re gonna get stung.

Homeopathic Science

It’s a wholly different system–
There are data, but you missed ’em,
In the infinite dilution of our minds!
Modern medicine is bleaker
Cos our evidence is weaker,
Which is stronger, as our different system finds!

All those articles and studies
That you put out with your buddies,
Which you think will make your evidence more strong?
It is our determination
Through our less-is-more translation,
Each one proves that Western Medicine is wrong!

While you losers have fun losing
We’re diluting and succusing,
Gaining power modern science can’t assess–
And our strongest contribution
May be found in this solution:
Common sense (at just one molecule, or less)!

Strange. When I wrote this last year, PZ was complaining about homeopaths on his campus. Some things never change.

Vaccination Fixation

Oh, pity poor Orac! He’s feeling the love of the anti-vax folks, who apparently think he is a stupid-head. So this one, like it or not, is for you, Orac.

It’s obvious that ignorance combined with desperation
And deliberate distortion mixed with misinterpretation
Not to mention giant leaps of overstressed imagination
May result in opposition to a helpful vaccination.

The Mercury Militia calls for more investigation
Till the government reveals what must be missing information;
A disinterested observer soon would see the explanation:
Anti-vaxxers, as a rule, misunderstand the situation.

The evidence is crystal-clear; I have no hesitation—
Quite the opposite, in point of fact, I have an obligation
To preserve the herd immunity throughout the population
For the sake of both my children and their children’s generation.

But the anti-vaxxers have a beef with modern medication;
I suspect that they’re the people who protested fluoridation
And who’d never take a pill when they could use an incantation
Or a regimen of regular colonic irrigation.

It is possible these whackos have an honest motivation,
Ah, but ignorance is toxic when in such a concentration,
And the Mercury Militia have attained a reputation:
They’ve developed an immunity to science education.

Though the latest of the studies you can find in publication
Once again, despite the protest, shows a lack of correlation—
And by rights should be the harbinger of end of disputation—
I suspect the odds are better we’ll see porcine levitation.

That conclusion, I imagine, may elicit some frustration,
And a straining reminiscent of a mental constipation,
But allow me now to offer you this meager compensation—
That at least this little verse of mine has reached its termination.