Cordial Deconstruction

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Archive for the ‘Yahoo Features’ Category

Educate Yourself About Cell Phone Science

Posted by Karl Withakay on December 21, 2009

Maine is considering requiring cancer warnings on cell phones.  I could take the time to write a lengthy deconstruction regarding cell phones and non-ionizing radio frequency radiation, but why bother remaking the wheel when Steven Novella has already done an excellent job addressing the subject?

There’s just no science to support the hypothesis that cell phone use can cause cancer:  There’s no biological science to show a mechanism for cell phone use to cause cancer, and there’s no observational science to show cell phone use correlates to an increased risk of cancer.

What we have instead is an unsupported and mostly  implausible hypothesis that because non-ionizing radio frequency radiation from cell phones causes measurable biological effects and ionizing radiation can cause cancer, that cell phones probably cause cancer.  Give that to a politician who cares more about being seen to act on what is perceived to be (or can be promoted as) an important issue than they do about being genuinely productive (or about taking the time to properly educate themselves on an issue before acting), and you get proposals for new, unneeded, unscientific laws.

Indoor light is non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation with far more energy than the radio frequency radiation of cell phones, and it too produces measurable biological effects, but nobody seems to be proposing cancer warnings on light bulbs.  Oh, snap!  …  Never mind, set your hair on fire and run for the hills.

Posted in Critical Thinking, Criticism, Heads Up, Media, Medicine / Health, Science, Skepticism, Yahoo Features | Leave a Comment »

No Deconstruction Neccessary

Posted by Karl Withakay on August 10, 2009

Gee, I’m almost disappointed.

David B. Caruso of the Associated Press wrote an article, “Immune system cancer found in young 9/11 officers” that immediately raised my guard based on the headline.  I was prepared for a typical, sensationalistic article based on Post Hoc Ergo Prompter Hoc fallacies, anecdotes, and an ignorance of statistics.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised.

It was a well written article.  It presented the facts objectively, didn’t cherry pick details to support an agenda or skew the story, and made no unsuported conclusions.  Additionally, the conclusions that were drawn were very reserved and reasonable.

Points made in the article:

-Numbers of incidence of multiple myeloma in the sample are tiny.

-Numers of incidence are within predicted parameters, but high for one age group in question.
(8 cases, but 4 under 45: should only be 1 under 45)

-Currently no evidence to support causation.

-Number could be result of increased medical scrutiny the group has been subjected to.  (Will Rogers Effect, see

-Continued, increased  surveillance is advised.

-Timing is in question as research show that not enough time had  passed for multiple myeloma to develope due to environmental exposeure to a carcinogen, suggesting a non-causal relationship to 9/11.

I was even more surprised to learn from Googling his name that David Caruso does not appear to be a dedicated science reporter.  Maybe there’s hope for mainstream science reporting these days after all, even from non science reporters.

I though that Mr. Caruso deserved a Kudo for the kind of quality repoting that is increasingly rare these days:  Way to go David!  🙂

Posted in Critical Thinking, Heads Up, Kudos, Medicine / Health, Science, Skepticism, Yahoo Features | Leave a Comment »

America’s Most Endangered Malls

Posted by Karl Withakay on June 29, 2009

This being the off season for TV, I’m having a hard time finding many jucy targets that I want to deconstruct.

So, just so I have something to post, I’ll mention this Yahoo article on America’s Most Endangered Malls that caught my interest.

I read the whole article and was surprised to find no mention of the mall in Willamette, Colorado anywhere.  I thought for sure that between the current recession and the 2006 outbreak that it would be on its last legs, but I guess there’s not many other places to shop in Willamette.

Maybe in a couple of years, yahoo will have a followup article on America’s most endangered casinos.

That is all.  🙂

Posted in Deadpan, Humor, Yahoo Features | 2 Comments »

Deconstruction: 5 Secrets to Preserve Your Eyesight

Posted by Karl Withakay on June 15, 2009

OK, finally, an actual Deconstruction.  Deconstructing various Yahoo features will probably be a semi-regular feature of my blog, for as long as I actively maintain the thing.

Yahoo’s main page frequently features various “health” articles of somewhat dubious value, and now I finally have a blog on which to deconstruct one.

Today I saw the story, 5 Secrets to Preserve Your Eyesight (warning for the right-click impaired, the link opens in the same window), and decided to take a look.

It’s pretty typical fare for the types of “health” articles Yahoo features, providing a lot of sciencey sounding, but unsupported recommendations, appeals to ancient wisdom, and repeating one or more already debunked medical myths.

The first particular I’ll address is the first “secret”

1. A juice to brighten your eyesight
An age-old Chinese folk remedy for clearing the vision is a blended juice made from celery, peppermint, and Chinese parsley. Research has caught up with this wisdom, and we now know that luteolin, an antioxidant bioflavonoid found in these three ingredients, has been found to provide the best protection of cell DNA from radiation. Some evidence shows that luteolin helps protect the eye from UV radiation damage, as well as from glycation, a process in which sticky sugar molecules bind up protein, potentially damaging the retina. Luteolin also promotes healthy blood sugar levels and regulates insulin sensitivity. Blend together celery, peppermint, and Chinese parsley in a blender with a little water or a juicer. Drink this fresh juice daily to see well into the future!

First, I’ll just address that the article provides no references to support the claims made in any way; we’re just supposed to accept that the author speaks with authority.  It may be unrealistic to expect support references, but at least a passing mention of the source of the research and evidence would be nice, as in “research at XYZ University in 2001  showed….”.

Next, notice how the article doesn’t say that  these ingredients have been “shown to provide the best protection of cell DNA from radiation”, “protect the eye from UV radiation damage, as well as from glycation”, or “promotes healthy blood sugar levels and regulates insulin sensitivity”, only that substances found in these ingredients have.  In my experience, this is fairly typical of mainstream media “health reporting” in general.

The reasoning goes something like this:  Item A has been shown to have health benefit Y.  Item B contains item A, therefore item B has health beneift Y.  This is fallacious logic.  There are numerous reasons why item B may not have health benefit Y.  Item B may or may not contain sufficient amount of item A, it may contain item A in a different (less effective or ineffective) form, or item B may contain other ingredients that offset or nullify the beneficial effects of item A.

If item A has been shown to have health benefit Y, and item B contains item A, we can say there is reason to investigate item B to see if it too has benefit Y, but that’s about it.

Item 2 “Eat for Eye Health” is essentially a bunch of unsupported claims which may or may not be true.   I don’t feel like taking the time to research them to see if they hold any merit (It’s my first real Deconstruction, give me a break).

Item 3, “Stay hydrated” parrots the debunked notice of needing to drink 8 glasses of water a day (even the CDC still parrots that one, so it’s hard to blame the author too much for it) and adds that proper hydration is essential for good eye function.  It’s of course important to not become dehydrated, but most people’s current liquid intake is already fine.

Item 4, “Eye exercises to fight floaters“: I spent a few minutes searching the internet, and found no scientific support for these claims.  I did find info on the Mayo Clinic’s site describing the causes and treatment of floaters, but strangely never found any of these exercise listed.  Wearing of UV-protective sunglasses is something my eye doctors have been recommending for decades, so I’m OK with that advice.

Item 5, “Instant eye remedies“: is mostly unproven, scienced up herbal remedies, but the recommendation for eye exams is reasonable.

As we get to the end of the article, surprise-surprise, we find that the author, one Dr Mao, has a book he wants you to buy, and he also sells “natural health products”  on the Tao of Wellness website.

Dr Mao’s website states that he  “is a doctor of Chinese medicine and an authority in the field of Anti-Aging Medicine” and “has two doctorate degrees and wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on nutrition”  It does not say what institutions he has his doctorates from, and it although it says his dissertation was on nutrition, it does not state that either of his degrees are in nutrition.  He is most clearly not an MD, and this is something which is not at all clear in the Yahoo article.

I get the feeling that people like Dr Mao really want us to actually use only 10% of our brains, and not think critically when consuming information.

Posted in Medicine / Health, Yahoo Features | 1 Comment »

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