Robert Todd Carroll
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December 10, 2007
In this issue:
I received word from my editor at Wiley & Sons that a publisher in Spain has bought the rights to translate The Skeptic's Dictionary into Spanish. The book is now available in Estonian, Russian, Japanese, Korean, and English.
There are six new entries in the dictionary:
There's been some feedback on the organic (food & farming) entry. It's posted with my usual unbiased, insightful replies bound to please everyone they don't offend.
There are four new entries in What's the Harm?
There are four new entries in Mass Media Funk:
The faith entry has been revised in response to several scientists who confuse two distinct senses of the word 'faith.'
Seven dictionary entries were updated:
The headline on BreitBart.com reads: Israeli study says regular mobile use increases tumour risk. Haaretz.com's headline reads: Cancer researcher: Children's cellular phone use should be limited. IsraelNationalNews.com asserts: Israeli Doctor Links Cell Phone Use to Cancer. The study on which these news stories are based was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and is called "Cellular Phone Use and Risk of Benign and Malignant Parotid Gland Tumors-A Nationwide Case-Control Study." The study was done by Siegal Sadetzki et al. (The parotid gland is a salivary gland near the ear.)
The abstract of the article does not claim that regular cell phone use increases tumor risk. The study had nothing to do with children; all participants were over 18. Dr. Sadetzki, a cancer and radiation expert at the Chaim Sheba Medical Centre in Israel, is the cancer researcher and doctor who was interviewed for two of the stories mentioned above. What she says in her interviews seems to go beyond the evidence she and her research team published in their report. The published study asserts:
The entire group consisted of "402 benign and 58 malignant incident cases of PGTs diagnosed in Israel at age 18 years or more, in 2001-2003, and 1,266 population individually matched controls." So, how did the journalists and Dr. Sadetzki get from this data to the claim that cell phones are a cancer risk for anybody? They got there because Dr. Sadetzki's team didn't stop their data analysis with the general issue of risk to people in general. They dug deeper and found consistently elevated risks for "regular users" of cell phones and for those who use cell phones under "conditions that may yield higher levels of exposure (e.g., heavy use in rural areas)." They found that for tumors occurring on the same side of the head as usual phone use (ipsilateral use), "the odds ratios in the highest category of cumulative number of calls and call time without use of hands-free devices were 1.58 (95% confidence interval: 1.11, 2.24) and 1.49 (95% confidence interval: 1.05, 2.13), respectively." (An odds ratio of 1 means the condition is equally likely in both groups. An odds ratio of 1.58 means that there was a 58% higher incidence of the condition in one group.)
I don't have access to the full report, but it is likely that the actual number of cases that fit the category of "regular users" or "high exposure" users (two categories that are subjectively defined and whose limits can be set wherever the researchers see fit) would be significantly smaller than the 58 malignant cases in the study. Thus, finding a 50% greater chance of having a tumor by your right ear if you hold the phone to your right ear and are a heavy user might sound more impressive than it is. Are we talking about the difference between 6 cases in one group and 4 in another? Before any grand conclusions are drawn about cell phone use and either tumors or cancer, replication is needed to rule out the possibility that these data are a fluke. In fact, the researchers conclude very weakly: "our results suggest an association between cellular phone use and PGTs." The data suggest an association. But a news story about a study that suggests an association between cell phones and tumors, most of which are benign, is like a story about there being a full moon and nothing happened. It has no hook to grab the reader's attention. But what reporter would let the truth get in the way of a good story?
One who promises to do so is medical writer Jerry Adler of Newsweek. In the December 10th issue he has an essay called "A Big Dose of Skepticism," in which he says that after reading biostatistician R. Barker Bausell's Snake Oil Science: The Truth about Complementary and Alternative Medicine he vows that he will "not report on any amazing new treatments for anything, unless they were tested in large, randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials published in high-quality peer-reviewed medical journals." For about five years Bausell was director of research for the University of Maryland's center to study complementary and alternative medicine. "Bausell's book," writes Adler, "could give one the idea that the two most dangerous words in medicine are 'studies show.'"
Now, if we could just get Adler and other journalists, as well as editors of conventional medical journals, to extend their skepticism to conventional medical studies, we might hear even less about the next faux miracle cure or deadly poison in our shopping carts.
First prize this minute goes to Quantum-Touch.
It's so simple, even a moron can do it.
Quantum-Touch was invented by a guy named Richard Gordon, an "impassioned promoter of Life-Force Science." He says anyone can learn this stuff, "regardless of your age, culture, religion or belief system."
As the master says: "Only we can heal ourselves, just as only we can digest our own food." How true. Have you ever tried to digest someone else's food? It's not very pretty.
The Forever Family Foundation (FFF) aims to "further the understanding of Afterlife Science through research and education while providing support and healing for people in grief." In an effort to achieve this goal, FFF is bringing together under one roof in the great city of San Francisco for two days only Dean Radin and Gary Schwartz. Next January 19th and 20th at the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center, these two giants of the alternative science community will be joined by such luminaries as Dianne Arcangel, "an expert in the field of facilitated apparitions," Bruce Greyson, an expert in the field of looking for evidence of spirit leaving the body during an OBE, and reincarnation scientist Jim Tucker (Ian Stevenson's successor). The focus of the two-day extravaganza is captured in the thematic title: Investigations of Consciousness and The Unseen World - Proof of an Afterlife?
A press release announces that this will be "a groundbreaking conference that will bring together world-renowned scientists, medical doctors, researchers, and mediums with a goal of educating the general public." What do you think the public will learn from the likes of Fred Alan Wolf? (He likes to claim that ancient eastern mysticism and quantum physics are simpatico and provide a real explanation of consciousness.) I think they'll learn that there is a ton of scientific evidence for the SOC (survival of consciousness) hypothesis and that after death everybody will be reunited with their pets and loved ones, while the people and animals they didn't get along with here on earth will be vaporized.
One speaker who sounds like he might be interesting is Arthur Hastings, who is listed as doing "psychomanteum research." I found a psychomanteum website and apparently these folks have intercourse with apparitions, not necessarily of a sexual nature. This stuff is said to be "a highly effective approach to healing bereavement" and looks to Raymond Moody for inspiration. He's the one who loves to scry with celebrities and gave a kick start to the NDEs-prove-SOC movement.
On the evening of Saturday the 19th, psychic entertainment will be provided by Loyd Auerbach, an expert on ghosts who will be performing as Professor Paranormal. I know this sounds like it's patterned after the Amazing Meetings, but one difference here is that these folks take a break after every talk and the breaks are specifically designated as times for book signings, concessions, and vendor sales. Click here for a copy of the complete, though tentative, schedule. The cost is only $275 for non-members like me. There is an additional charge of $45 for the Professor Paranormal show. For another $35 Continuing Education Units are available through HCH Institute of Layfayette, California. HCH is a hypnotherapy school that also offers Energy Therapy Certification. This is the kind of stuff that sometimes passes for vocational education in my home state.
Each day will conclude with a mediumship demonstration of spirit communication, one by Hollister Rand and the other by Robert Brown. Unfortunately, no video cameras are allowed, but audio taping of the spirit communication sessions are okay. Sorry, there are no refunds, not even for those who die on the way to the conference and show up during the spirit communication sessions.
The 75th edition of the Skeptic's Circle is up at Kristjan Wager's Pro-Science page. Go there for links to some of the finest blogging by defenders of truth, justice, and the rational way.
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