Sunday, 17 September 2017

Pseudoscience on Social Media

Some examples of Pseudoscience on Social Media.


Glyphosate meme

This meme is not quite in the lunatic vein as the other posts on this page, because concern about herbicides is legitimate and they do cause significant issues. However, is the specific claim correct?

The quick way to find out is to google "oreos glyphosate snopes" which returns this link describing the claim as "False"

But lets assume that information was not available and we only have the meme to go on. what questions could one ask to determine whether it is correct or not:

Is it a reputable site or one that is full of misinformation?
Does it reference the original data?
Does this claim fit with what you know about the world?
What are they actually claiming, and what are they being careful to omit?
Do they start with a legitimate piece of research (in a bit to establish credibility) and then drift off into conspiracy theory and wild claims?

A bit of googling reveals the original source of the data in a report by Food Democracy Now.

And a factcheck of it, which comments:

"In March 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of WHO located in Lyon, France, did classify glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans...but in May 2016, a group of pesticide residue experts at WHO and the United Nations also concluded that glyphosate is “unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans” through their diets."

Factcheck describes how these two claims are not contradictory :

"The 2015 IARC conclusion aimed to identify any potential cancer hazard glyphosate may pose to humans at some level of exposure, WHO explains. But in 2016, the pesticide residue experts at WHO and the U.N. assessed the actual cancer risk the herbicide poses to consumers at a specific level of exposure, namely the level commonly found in foods....IARC and the pesticide residue experts also looked at different sets of data to make their conclusions. For example, IARC only took into consideration published research when making its conclusions, while the pesticide residue researchers also considered unpublished data."

"Looking at the actual numbers, the US Environmental Protection Agency sets glyphosate’s chronic reference dose at a maximum of 1.75 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. However, it’s important to point out that the agency didn’t set this amount specifically for cancer, but health effects in general."

So, for a 10kg child, that is an allowance of 17.5mg per day

An Oreo weighs around 3g, or 3000mg, and with Glyphosate at 289ppb(=0.289ppm) we have one Oreo ccontaining 0.000000289 x 3000mg = 0.0009mg of glyphosate which is far, far below allowed US level of 17.5mg/day (and EU tolerances are even lower).

Food Democracy Now go to claim that the existing safe limits are too high, quoting data in a way that may or may not be appropriate.

As ever, the Wikipedia page on Glyphosate based herbicides and on Glyphosate the chemical are a good place to start to find out more.



Seen Autumn 2018



Seen Summer 2018


An article by Robert Walker on "Science 2.0" describes the fear that fake doomesday stories on Google News (and other sites) are causing to children and your adults :

"This is a serious problem. It's not just the misinformation and people growing up with this totally fake astronomy education. These stories are also scary, especially for young children, or young parents with babies, because they usually also tell them that the world is about to end in the next week or month or some other short timescale."


Via Twitter

US Senator Jim Inhofe sets what may be the gold standard for denialism, back in Feb 2015.


Via Twitter

The above was Tweeted by East Mids UKIP MEP @RogerHelmer.

Snopes has looked into this article, which originated on Breitbart News, and comments that :

"We reached out to many of the authors of the studies included on this list via email to see if they agreed with Breitbart and No Tricks Zone’s analysis. While not everyone we reached out to responded, not a single researcher that we spoke to agreed with Breitbart’s assessment, and most were shocked when we told them that their work was presented as evidence for that claim."


Via Facebook

(Post first seen by NSB in 2017).A Facebook post poking fun at pseudoscience conspiracy theories.


(Post first seen by NSB in 2017.). Does Fluoridation cause cancer? Answer is that there are so few of the most likely cancers (even before fluoridation) that it is difficult to tell. More information in this article by the American Cancer Society.


Cannabis does not cure cancers
"Dangerous pseudo-science that could get people killed if they use cannabis oil instead of medical advice. In contrast to the claims in the article, there are MANY studies on the effects of cannabisits effects - for example at CancerResearchUK page".


Anti-Vaccine attitudes get children killed.

This post actively causes harm by discouraging people from getting their children vaccinated. If you want to see what DOCTORS say about flu vaccine, visit this CDC page.


CERN is not making an anti-matter bomb

Very sensible video until about 6mins in then it starts to fixate on anti-matter, repeatedly saying (accurately) that 1g of antimatter has the energy potential of a nuclear weapon and (also accurately) that CERN has been trying to contain antimatter.

But what is not mentioned (although NSB did not listed to the entire audio) is that the current state of the art is only able to hold about 40 anti-protons, which is 0.000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 1 g and according to the IOP it would take around 100 billion years to produce 1 gram of antimatter. ********************************

Microwaves are not particles

Lots of errors and misinformation here. To take one example,the article says "They use electrically generated electromagnetic energy to make super-fast particles". But microwaves aren't particles. The clue is in the name. Here is a paper that talks quite comprehensively about microwave oven leakage and safety


Jun 2013
NSB recently read an article in MailOnine by TV motoring correspondent Emma Parker Bowles on her experience using a leeches to cure migraines.

The article (entitled "Gruesome, medieval and utterly bizarre... but leeches freed me from awful migraines") had a number of characteristics consistent with being "psuedoscience". In particular, the following points caught NSB's attention:

a) Evidence presented does not relate to the condition at hand (migraines)
"In the 1980s, leeches began to be used by reconstructive plastic surgeons needing to remove stagnant blood from reattached limbs, to stave off gangrene. But now there are numerous studies into medical uses for leeches. One found that a single session of leeching – the medical application of bloodsucking leeches – can significantly reduce knee pain caused by arthritis for at least two months. Researchers from the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany claimed improvement levels were comparable to those achieved with daily moderate doses of painkillers such as ibuprofen... The secret is in the leeches’ saliva: it apparently contains a large number of analgesic, anaesthetic, and blood-thinning compounds that tackle pain and inflammation, say the researchers."
But these are differnet applications to those that Bowles was using the leeches for (i.e. to stop migraines). Whereas the clinical uses mentioned relate to the use of leeches directly on the area affected, the procedure Bowles was undertaking involved the placement of leeches on the side of the head where they were separated from the brain by the skull. And, in any case, it is unlikely that Bowles was experiencing a migraine at the time the leeches were applied, so it seems unclear to BFTF exatly what the "analgesic, anaesthetic, and blood-thinning compounds" were supposed to be acting on.

Incidentally, the article does not provide references so BFTF cannot check the cited papers themselves, but the German study may be a follow up to this 2003 investigation and another study points out that investigations in to leech therapy are difficult to perform as the patients inevitably know whether they are being treated by leeches or by another method :

"Leech therapy can reduce symptoms caused by osteoarthritis. Repeated use of the leeches appears to improve the long-term results. We have not determined whether the positive outcome of the leech therapy is caused by active substances released during the leeching, the placebo effect, or the high expectations placed on this unusual treatment form"

NSB can find no reference in the online medical database PubMed for the use of leeches to cure migraines. In fact, internet references seem to largely relate to the MainOnline article itself.

So, in summary, there seems to be no evidence for the efficacy of leeches to treat migraines, not is any plausible explanation for their mechanism of action offered.

b) Wide ranging claims are made
It always makes NSB suspicious when wide ranging claims are made with no evidence for their efficacy. In this case, Bowles comments that :

"Google led me to Alicja, a Russian/Polish hirudotherapist [leech therapist] with ten years’ experience. She is based in Las Vegas and New York but she has clients from all around the world. She says the secretions from leeches’ saliva can be used to treat the entire spectrum of physiology: blood-clotting, digestion, connective tissue, disease, pain, inhibition of enzymes, and as a treatment for inflammation."

c) No evidence that the procedure worked even in this case
Bowles states that

"I could go for six months without suffering [a migraine], then there would be a whole week of agony"

and that she has not had a migraine since the leech therapy. As the leech therapy appears to have been performed this year (2013) and that the date of the article is 1st June, it is not clear that the frequency of migraines has changed for Bowles.


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