Monday, October 19, 2009

Minneapolis Skeptics and Twin Cities Skeptics Present: How the Perception of an Intact Body Can Go Awry



Twin Cities Skeptics and Minneapolis Skeptics present: “Phantom limbs, alien hand syndrome, the rubber hand illusion...How the Perception of an Intact Body Can Go Awry...” on October 24, 2009 at the Hennepin County Central Library.

This should be a fascinating lecture and discussion.

Here are some some snippets from Dr. Phelps:

I am going to talk about phantom limbs-the outcome that up to 70% of amputees will report that the missing limb "feels like it is still there"...
Secondly, I will talk about cases of alien hand syndrome in which brain injury in focused locations will result in a non-dominant arm and hand are complained about as being active by themselves, with the afflicted person reports the limb "does what it wants and I have no sense of control over it..."

Finally, I will talk about a popular research topic known as the rubber-hand illusion in which very simple and non-harmful procedures will result in "normal" individuals will come to report that an rubber hand, a Halloween store type prop, will be reported and perceived as being connected with and actually part of a person's body.
Dr. Brady J. Phelps is a Behavior Analyst at the University of South Dakota. He has published papers on a range of topics including substance abuse, Alzheimer's disease, Dissociative Identity Disorder and cognitive rehabilitation, all from a behavior analytic point of view and current has research programs in the following areas : Stimulus Control in the Rubber Hand Illusion as a Conditional Discrimination Hormonal and Circadian factors in Sleep Duration.

Go to the Minneapolis Skeptics' Meet-Up site for the full details, directions and to RSVP for the event.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Alternative to "Alternative Medicine" is Medicine


Fancy Or Farce?
Originally uploaded by CodeZero


I attended a local "Alternative Medicine" expo near my home today. I had been looking forward to it for a couple weeks. My plan was to listen to the explanations, take mental notes and prepare a rip-fest of a blog post about all the woo-woo. Two thirds of that plan worked perfectly.

A couple caveats before I begin: I've decided not to link to all the woo-woo sites I encountered. There will be enough info in this post for you to do you own Google searches, if you like, and I don't want to generate web traffic from this blog to their sites. I've also decided not to name names of the vendors and not to personally attack any of the vendors or attendees. The manufacturers and inventors are fair game, however. This will be explained later in this post. All the quotes and claims are taken from literature I was given and comments from the representatives as I remember them. One of the skeptics made a recording but I don't have access to that at this time. Perhaps, I'll have to make some corrections to this post in the future.

The event took place in a conference room at my local community center. It wasn't well publicized. I managed to find it through Meet-Up at some sort of light-energy healing group and saw a small listing in the local paper. (not sure why events for this group get pushed to me through Meet-Up but thanks though) The first 100 attendees received a gift bag. Me and the two other Minneapolis Skeptics arrived a half hour after they opened. At that time, it looked like very few gift bags had been handed out. In addition to the three of us, we only saw 3 or 4 other attendees in the hour we hung out there.

A very nice lady handed us our gift bags and thoroughly explained how we could enter to win some gift cards. There were nine tables set up in the room.

The first table we visited displayed some sort of supplement stuff from a company called Max International. We received a sample of "Max N-Fuze with nanoactivators." From the package:
Max-N-Fuze represents a breakthrough approach to nutrient delivery and absorption. This patent-pending product is the fusion of nano and macro components designed to supply the nutrients your cells need for optimal functional and communication.*
The package is a mylar-esque packet similar to the packaging that energy goo comes in. Tear of the top and squeeze it into your mouth. We were told to put it under our tongues to it could be absorbed directly in the body rather than have the stomach and such process it first. There is only a vague description of its ingredients on the package:
Includes full spectrum vitamins, minerals and herbs for peak daily health.*
Pretty much every statement on the package has the * symbol. This leads to the standard CYA (cover your ass) disclaimer:
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat cure of prevent any disease.
The other product at this booth is called "MaxGXL." It claims to fix your glutathione so you live longer. The brochure explains the "5 ways MaxGXL can improve your life!" (all with the CYA disclaimer): More Energy; Immune System; Cellular Detox; Peak Athletic Performance; Fight Cellular Inflammation. We spoke to this woman for a few minutes. She was very nice, very convinced and likable. She didn't pitch on this particular part but I snagged a brochure: "7 Ways to Make Money - The Max Plan." Turns out, this was a typical multi-level marketing scheme. Buy a bunch of product; recruit your friends; your friends recruit their friends; and so on until you all get rich.

I just realized that I won't make a very good investigative journalist. I didn't organize all the literature I received and don't remember exactly which booth we visited next. Therefore, I'll fill you in but it may not be necessarily in chronological order.

There were purveyors of Yoga, Massage, Acupuncture, Reiki and Chiropractic. You probably all ready know about those so I'll stick to the really far out practices for the rest of the post.

Esogetic Colorpuncture. I admit I hadn't heard of this one. From the literature:
[the certified colorpucture practitioner] offers a comprehensive range of vibrational healing therapies to rebalance the body, mind, soul and spirit according to the individual needs of each client. Esogetic Medicine, which includes Colorpuncture, builds on ancient methods expanding on those techniques according to findings in current scientific research into fields such as biophysics, quantum mechanics, morphogenetic field, holograms crystal technologies and more.

Colorpuncture combines the 21st century insights of light physics with the ancient knowledge of the meridians emphasized in acupuncture.
Basically, this sounds almost exactly like acupuncture except she uses a flashlight instead of needles. Perfect! The woman at this booth also sold crystals that, in addition to the healing properties, were "fun to wear." She also provides: "Aqua-Chi foot bath, sound therapies, crystal therapies, brain wave therapies, dream work therapies and other vibrational healing techniques..." Her literature claims: "Therapies Address" everything from ADHD, Allergies, Anxiety to Cancer, Learning Issues and Tinnitus. This appears to be the only woman you'd ever have to see for what ever ails you. She offers classes teach you all her techniques from $265 - $345 plus additional materials.

WTF is "Rolfing?" I hadn't heard of it and didn't speak to the person purveying it but I found a business card in my gift bag for a "certified rolfer." I am pretty sure I saw it on an episode of Southpark involving an evidence bag...but I digress. Check it out for yourself.

"Life Vantage: The Path To Health and Prosperity." This was another way to live younger. Anti-oxidant and free radical mumbo jumbo here. Plus and chance to get rich with their "network marketing" system. Some highlights from the lit:

World renowned, Nobel Prize nominee formulator
Literal ground floor opportunity...
Everyone is talking about antioxidants...

Protandim destroys millions of free radicals per second

Clinical proof
Category-creating science and product redefine wellness, aging and anti-aging!
You can precisely measure how much better this works than regular anti-oxidant supplements just figure out your "aging factors." All this lit had the standard CYA disclaimers.

"Discover a way to...Learn ANYTHING Faster and More Easily" with the BrainGym. "BrainGym is a program of easy physical movements that synchronize body and mind to optimize how we learn and perform in all areas of our lives..." I never heard of this one until today. Apparently, you do these exercises (pay money) and it makes you smarter. Most of this lit piece is testimonials and we should all know by now how scientific those are.

One table represented a entire location for all kinds of woo-woo. Here is a sample from their brochure:
Marriage & Family Therapist & Poetry Therapist (wtf is that?)

Alternative Self Care (fixes everything)

Healing Therapies: Angel Therapy and readings; Dowsing; Emotional Release; Essential Oil/Aroma Therapy; Healing Touch; Personalized Kinesiology; Raindrop Technique (wtf? water boarding?); Rhythmic Movement Training and Touch for Health.
There was a "Compass life coach" offering her wares. "In just 10 minutes a day, complete your MAP or Monthly Action Plan." So, how is it "complete" if it takes 10 minutes a day? She offered self-directed, telephone, virtual and in-person coaching programs for only $19, $39 or $59 per month. My favorite quote from her literature: "Isn't it time for you to take your life back from the demands of your daily reality?" I think I'd consider smoking pot again if I wanted to leave my daily reality.

I got a brochure of Acupressure points so know I can fix my: Large Intestine; Gall Bladder; Pericardium and Stomach.

"The ionCleanes purifies the body more effectively and faster than any herbal or fasting protocals, with little or no stress to the patient.*" (*CYA). Invented by Dr. Theodore Baroody author of "Alkalize Or Die." Check this one out on the web. Basically, this is a foot bath that ionizes trillions of water molecules so it can draw out your toxins. Favorite quote: "Fat and mucous residues found in the water after bathing reflect the wastes that have left the body during the 20-30 minute session." or it's just the dirt, sweat and grime... Second favorite quote: "The IonCleanse creates precisely the same environment as a walk along the beach, only more powerfully because your feet are in direct contact with the ions being manufactured in the water." I asked this woman if it's like the foot pads I've seen on TV and she said yes it was. Claims to (along with dietary modifications) to "substantially reduce and even eliminate these conditions (CYA):" Rashes; dark circles under your eyes; swollen joints; yellow-green and blotched complexions. They provided before and after photos showing feet in a tub of clear water (before) and feet in a tub of water that looks like someone took a nasty watery shit in it (after)...friggin gross.

My Astrophysicist friend had a very tough time not ripping into the people offering "Quantum Theory" explanations. At one point, I thought he was going to blow our cover but he calmed down. He had a long conversation with the BrainGym lady and the wide field electromagnetic spectrum pad guy. I seemed to have lost, or not received, any literature from that guy. He had a video playing that showed a blood vessel and what appeared to be a capillary opening up. He claimed that you just need to lay on his pad for a few minutes a day and it would stimulate your mitochondria to "spin faster" thereby making you feel better or some such. This guy, in a low sneaky type voice, offered to get my friend in on the sales of these things. I'll try to get more from the recording and post it here later.

The Chiropractor had all the standard crap. I've written about that here. She also offered massages and herbs and some "all natural" hand sanitizer that contained witch hazel.

The last table might have been the most disturbing. Of all the people at this event, I felt the woman at this table may have known she was selling bullshit. The other people all seemed sincere and honestly believed what they were saying. This last lady gave me the impression that she was a shyster. I not sure why, perhaps it was my psychic intuition picking up some clues. She had two offerings. Colon Hydrotherapy. Penn and Teller had this on one of their great episodes of Bullshit on Showtime. Basically, they cram a hose up your ass, inject water and suck out your shit with another hose. This is supposed to: "cleanse and detoxify your body; Achieve regular bowel movements; get rid of parasites and bad bacteria; improve functions of all organs; preventative for colon cancer; improve metabolic efficiency; lose weight; transition to a healthy diet; preparation before surgery; relieve constipation." Those last two seem legit anyway. Her brochure recommends 4 sessions over two weeks for $75 each. She also offers and assortment of other woo-woo: Energy Medicine $70/hr; Quantum Bio-feedback $95; Ear Coning $60; Ion Cleanse $49; Energized Body Work $70/hr and for $25 per half hour you can get Far-infra red Sauna, whatever the f that is. I found no CYA notations on this literature.

The thing she really tried to sell me was a "shirt" that would make me slim, correct my posture and improve my overall health. I saw no literature with these claims but she explained that it came in my size, was made out of the same materials used for burn victims (so it was safe, I guess) and had a double layer to hold in my gut. The short advertisement she did give me only said "Would you like to drop 2-3 sizes today?" Basically, this was a girdle but not a very durable one as far as I could tell. My friend said they cost $175.

All in all, this was a very interesting learning experience. I remembered what I learned at The Amazing Meeting this summer from James Randi and Joe Nickell, in particular. They said that people were often misinformed and didn't really merit berating all of the time. Most of the people appeared to have fallen for various multi-level (pyramid) schemes. They were probably just trying to recoup their investments. I'm not sure how many were convinced of what they were offering. A few were and others seemed a little tentative with their claims. The professional chiropractor and the girdle/colonblow lady seemed the most sales proficient. I thought I would leave there energized to rip the crap out of them in this blog. I guess a did that a little bit, but mostly I felt empathetic to their situation and a bit embarrassed for some of them.

As I exited, I spoke with the first lady I met, the one who gave me the gift bag. She seemed a little disappointed. There wasn't a lot of traffic at her event. She still had lots and lots of gift bags. I suppose one good thing about that is my chance of winning the Target and Fresh and Natural Foods gift cards should be pretty good.

In case you missed it above: CYA = Cover Your Ass. It's my interpretation of the FTC required disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat cure of prevent any disease.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Whoville?


Whoville?
Originally uploaded by Mully410

Here is the photo that pretty much all by itself pushed my Flickr photostream over 70,000 views tonight.

...and I still don't know what kind of flower it is.

A helpful reddit-or suggests that it's this: http://www.missouriplants.com/Pinkopp/Monarda_fistulosa_page.html but I'm not certain about that. The area under the flowering part is quite different in my photos.

Thanks for viewing!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Astronomers Without Borders - Live Event - Full Data

m13 30 sec
M13

A couple weeks ago, I attended a live virtual observation event put on by Astronomers Without Borders in cooperation with the Virtual Telescope project. You can find the details of my experience here and here.

Recently, Dr. Masi, the host of the event, posted his thoughts and the images of the event here.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

James Randi on Why Conjurers Should Be Involved in Paranormal Investigations

Here is a very great excerpt from The Amazing Meeting 7. It's a small part of a panel discussion about magic and skepticism with mostly James "The Amazing" Randi speaking in this snippet.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Critical Thinking Club of St. Paul - Oct 11 - The Problem of Evil

This should be a very interesting one.

For meeting announcements for all Critical Thinking Club chapters, bookmark http://www.crest-o-the-hill.org/CTC/index.htm.

Critical Thinking Club, St. Paul

Location: Kelly Inn, Rice Street and I-94

Date: October 11, 2009

Time: 10:00 a.m. to Noon

Pesenter: August Berkshire

Topic: The Problem of Evil

The public is welcome to attend, but please RSVP to assure ample seating and meal service. Breakfast Buffet $10.00 Coffee only $3.00. Please RSVP to criticalthinkingclub@gmail.com.

If God is all-powerful, all-seeing and perfectly good, why is there evil and harm in the world? Why are there genetic birth defects, genetic and acquired diseases, and natural disasters? August Berkshire will critically examine the justifications that have been offered for the behavior of God, and whether the possibility of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent God is precluded by the existence of gratuitous evil.

August Berkshire is a founding member and past President of Minnesota Atheists, and a nationally known atheist speaker.

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