Category Archives: Skepticism

I Overdosed on Homeopathic Sleep Aid

Ok, maybe not so much overdosed as took-a-lot-of-pills-and-nothing-happened. At my Freethinkers meeting this Wednesday, we discussed alternative medicine. As a part of that, we talked homeopathy and I thought this was a good show of its ineffectiveness. I didn’t die (obviously) and it didn’t cause me to become sleepy or calm in the least (after this was filmed, we have a very lively debate, during which I was far from calm or sleepy, which is normal for our meetings). I’d also like to point out that not only are these pills just sugar pills, but they’re also expensive sugar pills (over $5 for a small bottle).

This demonstration was inspired by James Randi.

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Abortion: Myths and Misconceptions

I cannot count the number of times I’ve talked about abortion with someone and they got something so very wrong, and I’m not just talking about wingnuts. Even my friends who are pro-choice don’t fully understand what abortion is and what it means for many women. So I’d like to take some time to correct these myths and misconceptions about abortion.

The Procedure

First off, let’s learn a bit about what abortion actually means, medically speaking. How many times have you heard some crazy bullshit from conservative christians about how awful and bloody it is? Just the other week, I was arguing with talking to a Tea Party lady who claimed that an abortion is when a doctor induces birth and then kills the baby by putting a nail through its head (“partial birth” abortion is the only kind of abortion, dontcha know). Honestly, these people have very active and gruesome imaginations; I think it’s all that bible reading they do (Srsly, have you guys read that thing? Crazy!). Anyway, that’s definitely not how abortion works.

There are two common types of abortion: medication abortion and in-clinic abortion.

Medication Abortion

This procedure can occur up to 9 weeks after the first day of a missed period. It’s called a “medication” abortion because an abortion pill, called mifepristone (or RU-486), is what is used to terminate the pregnancy. This pill  blocks the hormone progesterone, without which the lining of the uterus will break down.

There are three steps in this procedure:

  1.  A women will take the pill at the clinic, and then will be given antibiotics to take afterwards.
  2. A second medication, called misoprostol, will be given about three days later (usually at home). This causes the uterus to empty. This part is probably the worst part (but not nearly as bad as some would like to claim). This will cause heavy bleeding and cramping: like a really bad period. This will last a few days at most, but spotting can last for a few weeks afterwards.
  3. Two weeks later, there will be a followup to make sure the procedure was successful. This includes an ultrasound and a blood test.

And that’s it. Not so awful, is it? It’s just a safe, effective medical procedure.

In-Clinic Abortion

In-clinic abortions are usually performed 9 weeks or later. There are two common kinds of in-clinic procedures: aspiration (aka: vacuum aspiration) and D&E (dilation and evacuation). The first is usually performed from 9 to 16 weeks, and the latter after 16 weeks.

Aspiration:  The woman’s uterus is examined prior to beginning the procedure. She’s offered pain medication and possibly some form of sedation. Then a speculum is inserted into the vagina and numbing medication would be injected. The cervix is stretched with dilators (possibly several hours to a day before the procedure) and/or medication. A tube is inserted into the uterus and it is suctioned until the uterus is empty. Sometimes an instrument, called a curette, will be used to insure that the uterus is empty. Antibiotics will be given, like with a medication abortion. This procedure takes about 5 to 10 minutes to perform, but more time will be needed to prepare the cervix.

Dilation and Evacuation:  This procedure is similar to an aspiration abortion in many ways. The main difference is that, with later second trimester abortions, a drug may need to be injected through the abdomen to ensure fetal demise. This procedure takes 10 to 20 minutes, with additional time needed to prepare the cervix.

The few days after these types of abortions will be similar to after a medication abortion. Some bleeding and cramping may occur, lasting a few days.

And that’s that. Nothing scary or gruesome or dangerous. It’s just a simple, safe medical procedure.

How Women Feel

You’ve probably heard something like this before (actually, Santorum just said something like this): women are emotionally damaged by abortion; it ruins women’s lives; etc. etc. This just isn’t true. As Planned Parenthood puts it:

You may have a wide range of feelings after your abortion. Most women ultimately feel relief after an abortion. Some women feel anger, regret, guilt, or sadness for a little while.

Serious, long-term emotional problems after abortion are about as uncommon as they are after giving birth.

Most sources I’ve seen say that most women just feel relieved. Any post abortion emotional problems are rare and usually pass quickly. If you’d like to read more about it, Planned Parenthood has a good explanation of several studies on the topic here [pdf] (it also cites sources!).

Other Misconceptions

A lot of pro-choicers will say things like “I’m not pro-abortion; no one is pro-abortion, but women have a right…” Well, I’m here to say that I am pro-abortion. I am absolutely for a safe, effective procedure that gives women the ability to control their own reproduction. That’s not to say that I’d prefer women get abortions rather than properly using birth control. But, hey, shit happens, even with the proper use of birth control. And I’m certainly not going to make moral judgments on a woman because she’s had an abortion (or even multiple abortions).

Another misconception floating around is that a woman must have a really good excuse to have an abortion. She must be a victim, unable to financially support a child, or have a medical problem. Well, fuck that shit. The only reason any woman needs to have an abortion is that she either doesn’t want a child or cannot safely have a child. That’s it. And if she doesn’t want to explain herself to you or someone else, then she doesn’t have to.

One thing really bothers me is how the media sometimes reports about abortion. Have you ever been watching a report about something abortion related and seen the stock-footage they use? It’s just fucking stupid. They always show women who are hugely pregnant; ones that are clearly in their late third trimester. Or they show ultrasounds that are similarly from later in a pregnancy. As if indicating that this is what women who get abortions look like; this is what their fetuses look like. Well, it’s not! Abortion that late in pregnancy just doesn’t happen. It’s not even legal in the US! I mean, I doubt they’re (usually) pushing an anti-choice agenda. They’re probably just lazy and have grabbed whatever stock-footage they found first.

These are just some of the myths and misconceptions floating around these days. There are many more, but hopefully, my dear reader, you’ve come away from this with more knowledge about this “controversial” topic.

If you’ve heard any myths about abortion that I didn’t get to, please leave a comment.

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Filed under Feminism, Politics, Science, Skepticism

A Little Homeopathic Fun at the Pharmacy

The other day I went to the local branch of a chain pharmacy to fill a prescription (antibiotics for my throat and giant, swollen lymph node). While I was waiting for them to fill the prescription, I decided to have a little fun. The game was this: find as many homeopathic “medicines” as possible. I’m proud to say that I found quite a few (some that I’d heard of and some that I hadn’t ). I took pictures of each one, so here they are!

Clams Forte: Homeopathic "sleep aid"

The first one I found (because I was specifically looking for this one) was Calms Forte. This homeopathic pill clams to be a sleep aid, but, as James Randi has demonstrated many times, it doesn’t do a thing. It contains what you’d expect homeopathic pills to contain: virtually no active ingredient.

Sambucol: Homeopathic "Cold & Flu Relief"

The next one I found was Sambucol, which clams to relieve cold and flu symptoms. It’s right next to the other pill with a bullshit clam, Airborne (which clams to prevent colds and the flu using very large doses of vitamin C, and it doesn’t actually work). Here’s how the Sambucol site describes its “active” ingredients:

Active ingredients are monographed and micro-diluted in accordance with the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia of the United States and are non-toxic and have no known side effects

It has no know side effects because it’s so diluted that it contains no active ingredients to cause any problems. What ingredients make up most of its mass, you ask? Well, lactose and sucrose, of course. It’s literally a sugar pill (and at about $10 a box, a rather expensive sugar pill).

Cramp 911: Homeopathic cramp "relief"

This one was a bit different from the others: Cramp 911 is a roll-on homeopathic treatment, rather than a pill. But, like the others, it has no active ingredients. The website for this one actually tries to explain what homeopathy is:

Homeopathy uses the therapeutic effects of substances by attenuating their toxicity through the use of very small doses right until the “infinitesimal” level. Experience has shown that, in spite of the very high dilution of the active ingredient, the therapeutic effects remains. Although progress is made every day, the state of science still does not allow us to account for the mode of action of infinitesimal dilutions.

Well, there you have it: experience shows that it works, so just forget about that pesky “lack of supporting scientific evidence” thing.

Homeopathic Fibromyalgia "Relief"

This one actually pisses me off. Fibromyalgia is painful, doesn’t have a cure, and no one is even sure what causes it. So preying on people with this disease (who are probably desperate for real relief) is especially disgusting to me. Once again, like with all homeopathic “medicines”, it’s diluted to the point of having none of the “active” ingredient in it.

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Bigotry is OK as Long as You Say You’re Sorry

So a really cool skeptic conference, called Skepticon, was held this weekend in Springfield, Missouri. It seems like an awesome event for those lucky enough to be able to attend, which would be about 1100 people (lucky bastards)! Now, Springfield is a smallish city, with just over 150,000 people, so you’d think local business owners would be psyched about 1100 more people to sell stuff to. And for the most part they probably were. Except for the owner of a local gelato shop called Gelato Mio. When the owner of this shop heard about Skepticon, he did what any normal business owner would do: he put up a sign telling them that they’re not welcome (seen above, from here).

It reads:

Skepticon is NOT welcomed to my Christian business

This sign didn’t stay up for too long, but just long enough for the attendees of Skepticon to know where not to go for gelato. And long enough for them to take pictures, which a few later blogged about. So, after everyone found out about this, the Yelp and Urbanspoon ratings plummeted, which caused the owner of Gelato Mio to post an apology to their website, which read:

RE Letter in the Window:

To the Public:  I sincerely apologize for the posting of the note in the window. It was an impulse reaction to an event that I witnessed and it was only up for a few minutes before I came to my senses and realized it shouldn’t have been up at all.

So you know, nobody was turned away and everyone was given the same high level of service they have come to expect. Out of the hundreds of event attendees that I served on Friday and Saturday, all of them were extremely polite and enjoyed their time in my restaurant. The event that greatly offended me was conducted by one man and I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.

Even small business owners make mistakes, and I sincerely apologize to those whom I offended.

All the Best,

Andy-

This “apology” raised a few questions (what event did he witness that freaked him out so much?) and generally didn’t satisfy many people (including me). While the downrating was happening on Yelp and Urbanspoon, many negative comments were being posted to their facebook page. But I guess at some point, whoever was in charge of the facebook page decided that s/he’d had enough. All of the negative comments were deleted a little after 10 pm last night (the 20th), leaving only positive comments (some of which made no sense anymore because they were in response to deleted comments). Well, people didn’t look too kindly upon that (including me) and some decided to post again, this time criticizing this silencing technique. I guess this time it was just too much, because at about midnight, the facebook page was taken down entirely.

This whole story is pathetic and sad, but not too surprising to me. I see and hear about stuff like this a little too often. What surprised me about this is how some fellow atheist reacted to this story. After the apology was issued, many (on the facebook page and in this comment thread) seemed to think that everyone should just shut up about this and forgive and forget. WTF? No! Why should I forget about something like this? Just because someone said “sorry”? That doesn’t make what they did ok. Especially when the apology isn’t sincere, like it clearly wasn’t in this case. Some people also brought up that this could make atheists look bad. This isn’t a PR thing! This is about someone who really thought it was ok (even for just a moment) to say something like this. It’s not like shutting up will convince everyone in the country that atheists aren’t so bad after all. Actually, being more vocal is probably better, which is why a lot of atheist groups have started campaigns to that effect (like the Out Campaign).

I know that I won’t shut up just because someone might think poorly of me or my group, and I hope the same is true for others. I also hope that things like this will happen less often as time goes on and more people speak out against it when it does happen.

Update: The owner of this shop apologized again and explained the “event” that bothered him so much.

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Natural Nonsense

Do you have some time on your hands? Need a good laugh? Like to make fun of stupidity? Boy, do I have a site for you! It’s full of woo and conspiracy theories (like, did you know that flu shots actually cause the flu, therefore making the flu season worse so that more people will get the vaccination?!). It’s called Natural News, and some of its “Hot Topics” are: GMOs, vaccines, and Vitamin C. As you can imagine, it’s fucking nuts.

But maybe I should take this kind of thing seriously, seeing how so many people believe this bullshit and there’s real harm in that.

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OMG, it’s 11/11/11: Numerology and pop culture

Haven’t you heard? Today is 11/11/11! That must mean something deep and mysterious must be happening! Look, there are six of the same number in a row! Isn’t that amazing? Did you know that this date only comes around once every 100 years! It must mean something.

But did you know that 11/10/11 also occurs only once in 100 years. So does 08/14/11 and 05/28/11, and on and on. Any combination of mm/dd/yy occurs only once every 100 years!

So, what’s this date even supposed to mean? Some people think it’s lucking and are therefore trying to get married today or scheduling C-sections so that their children are born today. But one numerologist says that today is not a good day for weddings. In Atlantic City, one casino is planning drawings every 11 minutes for up to $1,111. But some say that today is a “people date“, and that matters of money could go poorly. And others think that today has something to do with Mayan doomsday prophecy.

These interpretations are all over the place! This reminds me of something Carl Sagan said about astrology and its predictions:

It’s interesting that these predictions are not predictions. They tell you what to do; they don’t say what’s going to happen. They’re consciously designed to be so vague that they could apply to anybody, and they disagree with each other.

The same could be said about these predictions about and interpretations of what this date is supposed to mean.

So, what’s with this weird obsession with numerology in popular culture? This same excitement happened on 07/07/07 and 10/10/10. Why do people see so much meaning in these meaningless numbers? I guess it makes a normal, boring say seem more interesting and mysterious. I suppose they feel that it gives their lives meaning, or that it ties them to the universe (see the linked Carl Sagan video). It seems pretty silly to me. I’m perfectly happy with the reality of life and the universe, I don’t need to invent special meaning for inconsequential things.

Want to know more about why numerology is silly? Go here . And if you want to understand probability a little better (which has a bit to do with why people believe numerology), go here.

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