Junkfood Science: Skeptics' Circle

March 15, 2007

Skeptics' Circle

The latest edition of Skeptics' Circle is up at Scientia Natura: Evolution and Rationality. Shalini, the host, chose a timely theme: the credulity all around us. She winced at the way the media presents science on the idiot box and the blatant distortions os statistics and all of the pseudoscience.

With a plethora of posts on publicity-seeking dubious science and fun woo, one took a serious bent and offered an especially good look at the guiding principle of skepticism — also known as critical thinking. Steven Novella’s lengthy essay, “Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence,” is well worth reading:

It’s little more than common sense, really, but is worth repeating. It has become for skeptics an indispensable shield against outlandish claims. For true believers it is an annoyance, and they have attacked it relentlessly. The principle is based upon two premises: that we know stuff and that not all evidence is created equal....

True – we do not, and never will, know “everything.” But not knowing everything is not the equivalent of knowing nothing. The fund of human scientific knowledge is significant. It cannot reasonably be ignored or dismissed out of hand, for it stands atop a mountain of evidence....

Junkfood Science readers may especially enjoy my favorite post of this issue: “Frosticisms!” It’s priceless, witty and brilliantly argued by EoR at Second Sight:

Here's some of the advice proffered by the radio nutritionist, Helen Frost, this week: "If you put any chemical in the body the body freaks out." [EoR doesn't know what the answer is to this problem. Presumably, eating and drinking nothing, and ceasing breathing.]

Sweets "rot your joints." ...

"A lot of kids are dying faster than their parents (because of junk food)." [Eor has no idea what "dying faster" means. It's just more scaremongering without any science.]

"Candida albicans on the tongue can spread right down to your backside." Eeeeww. Erky perky! Of course, Candida albicans is probably all over the skin, along with a vast number of other microbial organisms. Coffee kills off the friendly bacteria in the gut and lets C albicans overrun the body. C albicans "digs holes in the intestine," "burrowing" like rabbits, and runs rampant in the body. The answer is to starve them out: no sweets, white foods or junk foods.

This sounds like the pseudoscience promoted by William G. Crook, M.D, though with the special "coffee is the root of all evil" twist.

Crook claimed that the problem arises because "antibiotics kill 'friendly germs' while they're killing enemies, and when friendly germs are knocked out, yeast germs multiply. Diets rich in carbohydrates and yeasts, birth control pills, cortisone, and other drugs also stimulate yeast growth." He also claimed that the yeasts produce toxins that weaken the immune system, which is also adversely affected by nutritional deficiencies, sugar consumption, and exposure to environmental molds and chemicals. To correct these alleged problems, he prescribes allergenic extracts, antifungal drugs, vitamin and mineral supplements, and diets that avoid refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and (initially) fruits and milk. Crook's concepts are a mixture of fact and fancy.

Returning to Ms Frost: "Rats fed white bread over 7 days get bloated and die". Ms Frost loves her dead rat studies (she mentioned another study last week where rats were fed either breakfast cereal or breakfast cereal boxes - apparently the first group died earlier, though Ms Frost may be misremembering the experiment ....

The entire post has fascinating looks at the origins of some of today’s most popular myths of the perils of the modern American diet. Be sure to read the last variant on the "we're all dying like rats" urban legend and the 1912 study!

Hoping for a saner environment led this week’s Skeptic’s Circle host to recommend three Junkfood Science posts here, here and here. Thank you for including them in this fun issue.

Bookmark and Share