Archive for the ‘Skepticism’ Category

AirborneMuch to the dismay of the millions of faithful Airborne users, and to the absolute glee of those of us who think critically, Airborne Health has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit against the company’s false claims about it’s products. The plaintiffs successfully sued the company on behalf of those who fell for the cutesy marketing and bought the product with the belief that, as the company falsely claims, it can prevent and cure colds. The settlement amounts to $23.3 million to be paid to those who purchased the product in the prior 6 years. A large sum of money, until you realize that the company sells (unbelievably) some $300 million worth of it’s product each year. And insult upon injury, the legal fees incurred are to be taken out of the settlement, bringing the amount actually awarded to consumers to just a tiny fraction of their purchase price.The real story here, however, is not that the company lost this law suit. That was a given. The real shocker should be just how popular this product is. I say should be, because of course it sadly comes as no surprise that this many people could be so credulous as to believe in another cure for the common cold. One created, no less by a school teacher. That’s right. Airborne Health’s proud statement, right on the front of the colorful, cartoony box, that the product was “Created by a school teacher” is actually one of it’s big selling points. This truly does come as no surprise to me. I am amazed, but never surprised, how parents will fight me tooth and nail over vaccinating their children (an intervention with more science supporting it’s effectiveness at preventing severe disease and even death than medical science has ever devised) while at the same time uncritically buying into the “immune boosting” properties of wheat grass juice, just because some guy behind the counter at their health food store recommends it. That a school teacher might have the knowledge, untapped by anyone else in the history of science, to create a vitamin and herb potion that can prevent and even cure the common cold somehow doesn’t seem implausible to most people. The company claimed (and still does – the settlement incredibly does not require them to stop making the claims they were found to be guilty of falsifying) that their product can prevent and cure a cold by “boosting the immune system”. Their Airborne Seasonal product (presumably an allergy medicine), which they claim uses a “non-drowsy formula” (not surprising since it doesn’t actually contain an antihistamine!) works by “promoting normal histamine levels”. Of course, nothing in these products does any of the things they are claimed to do. Hence the lawsuit. But again, why do people believe these preposterous claims in the first place? Like the saying goes, there’s one born every minute.


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The Vatican has determined that babies who die without first being baptized may not be forced to spend the rest of their afterlives in limbo. This announcement should come as a relief to those who have lost newborns before they could get baptized, as well as to those who have suffered miscarriages. It should also comfort those who have had abortions, although they, unfortunately, still face eternal damnation in the fires of hell. Cindy Wooden of the Catholic News Service (CNS) explains that this latest change in traditional Catholic teaching can be looked at as we would any scientific hypothesis, “Like hypotheses in any branch of science, a theological hypothesis can be proven wrong or be set aside when it is clear it does not help explain Catholic faith.” The study was released today in the prestigious scientific journal Origins, a publication of the Catholic News Service. It’s release was felt to be of particular importance because, the document states, “the number of nonbaptised infants has grown considerably, and therefore the reflection on the possibility of salvation for these infants has become urgent.” Further studies will need to be conducted to verify and confirm these findings, but the Church has decided to begin teaching the new dogma immediately so as to save as many babies as possible.

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The New York Times recently ran an article on the subject of miracles. Specifically, the article adressed the question of whether a French nun’s claim of being cured of Parkinson’s disease was a miracle performed from beyond the grave of the late Pope John Paul II.This matter-of-fact article reporting the potentially miraculous curing of Sister Marie Simon-Pierce of her Parkinson’s disease by the late John Paul II left me stunned. Not because of the enormous significance of such a supernatural feat, but because of the journalist’s unflinching credulity. The fact that many believe in the existence of miracles should not free journalists, or their papers, of the obligation to report stories of objective, truthful, and meaningful substance. If indeed this woman was cured of Parkinson’s Disease, that is a scientific occurrence of immense significance, yet this aspect of the story was not even approached. The truly fascinating story here is that in the 21st century the existence of miracles and the supernatural can remain unchallenged while evolution and global warming is debated.While this may be a trivial story, I could not let it go unaddressed. It was, once again, an example of how inured we have become to the term “miracle”. Usually the term is used in accordance with the third definition of The New Oxford American dictionary,

“an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something”.

For example, “the separation of the conjoined twins was nothing short of a miracle”. The term, used in this way, however, does a disservice to the great skill and science that lies behind this wonderful feat, and subtly (and irrationally) lends to it a level of supernatural significance. Physicians who operate on conjoined twins rely on a great level of skill acquired through rigorous training, and supported by generations of scientific advances. They certainly do not rely on supernatural forces of any kind. In the above NYT article, the term “miracle” is used with it’s original definition in mind,

“a surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency”.

There are only two ways to read this article. One requires us to interpret it as tongue-in-cheek reporting on the laughably irrational notion of supernatural miracles. The other is to assume it was meant as an objective piece of journalism on an issue before the Vatican. Neither interpretation is acceptable nor passes as valid journalism. Unfortunately, I found the substance of this article more worthy of The Weekly World News than The New York Times.

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