Tag Archives: Skepticism

The scam of beauty foods

My wife was introduced to collagen supplements over the weekend, which rang all of my skeptical alarm bells. I’ve actually heard of this before (LYN is full of people trying to sell this kind of stuff) but I never took the time to think about them properly. Once you do however, it’s immediately obvious to me that there’s something fishy about the whole idea.

The basic concept is that collagen is the main protein that is used to construct connective tissues in animals and is hence a vital component of skin tissue. However, as the body ages, collagen production slows down and the degradation of collagen causes aging. Therefore, the idea goes, taking collagen supplements orally should replenish the body’s supply and retard the formation of wrinkles.

Except that biology doesn’t work that way. Collagen is a type of protein and your body needs to create all of its own protein for it to use. In fact, it doesn’t matter what you put into your stomach as your stomach acids will just digest it and turn it into more basic substances. This is the reason why the protein supplements that bodybuilders use to build muscle don’t contain pure protein. Instead, they contain amino acids, the basic building blocks from which all proteins, including collagen, are made.

As this New York Times article points out, it’s not as if collagen supplements don’t do anything. It’s just that the body treats them as a source of protein like any other and breaks them down into amino acids which it can then use to build proteins of its own. You might as well just eat a piece of chicken and it would work just as well but be much cheaper. If you want a megadose of collagen, you might try eating gelatin based desserts, which are almost pure collagen.

What’s sad is that this sort of misinformation is pervasive in the cosmetics and beauty foods industry. While manufacturers make all sorts of claims about the effectiveness and health benefits of their products, most people are not aware that generally such claims are not verified by independent authorities. This is unlike the situation for pharmaceutical drugs where manufacturers must be able to prove to the government that they work as claimed before being allowed to sell them.

Consumers are also either not scientifically literate enough or lack the critical thinking skills needed to evaluate the various claims made by manufacturers. In the Internet age, it is easy enough to Google for more information when you’re in doubt, but it seems that few people make it a habit. This allows companies to get away with selling products that are the modern equivalent of snake oil, but dressed up in scientific language.

Scientologists in Haiti

This article about scientologists going to Haiti to help save the quake victims cracked me up. It only mentions that the plane was provided by a wealthy private donor but I’ve read elsewhere that it was personally piloted by John Travolta. Anyway, while I understand that they also carried emergency supplies with them and that is certainly a contributed that deserves appreciation, I’m also disgusted that they’re also sending along Scientology ministers who practice “touch” healing and other techniques that are frankly just snake oil.

Of course, there’s no danger of the scientologists trying to recruit in Haiti. They’re only interested in rich people and the Haitians are too poor to afford their expensive auditing procedures. But the intent is clearly to buff up their image and earn credibility for their quack medicine. As such, I think legitimate medical authorities should be readier to denounce bad science whenever they see it.

H1N1 conspiracy theories

Everyone put on your tin-foil hats. I’ve heard my share of healthcare-related conspiracy theories, but this one takes the cake. An Austrian journalist has filed charges against the World Health Organization (WHO) and key figures in the U.S. government for conspiracy to commit mass murder against virtually the entire population of the United States. She alleges that the current H1N1 pandemic is in fact a smoke and mirrors play. The virus, she claims, is a bio-engineered weapon that was deliberately released as a pretext to institute a mass vaccination programme in the United States. Rather than helping however, the forced vaccinations are designed to kill almost all of the population in the US, giving the surviving elite exclusive access to the vast natural resources of the country.

There’s really no need to go into the details of her story on how H1N1 was created, tested and deliberately released. The dumbest thing about the claim is the assertion that it is the natural resources of the country, rather than intellectual and creative powers of the U.S. population, from which the country’s wealth is derived. A cabal of Illuminati would be stupid indeed to kill off every else and be forced to subsist as hunter gatherers in the post-apocalyptic U.S. that would result.

There are whackos everywhere but what worries most at the moment are the anti-science, natural health nutjobs. I mean, the religious fundamentalists are pretty scary too, but they’re clearly on the fringe of society. But when you have someone like Oprah Winfrey making arguments on behalf of the anti-science crowd, they look more and more like the mainstream while the actual doctors and scientists are made out to look like bogeymen. Seriously, she’s telling millions of women that taking megadoses of hormones, and even injecting them directly into the vagina, is a valid anti-aging treatment and that thyroid problems are caused by women holding back what they have to say.

I’m not sure what can be done against this wave of anti-intellectualism and calling for more science education seems a bit trite, but this certainly reinforces my view that we shouldn’t allow science to be regarded as just another aspect of the truth, instead of being what it really is, the objective picture of reality as we currently know it.

Seeing Ghosts

The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli

Since a friend of mine, Tan Kien Boon, recently made a post on his blog about an emotionally trying experience that could be related to ghosts, I thought I might write about my closest encounter with the supernatural. This happened several years ago when I was working for a logging company in Gabon in west central Africa. I was sleeping, alone, face up, late in the afternoon, the kind of sleep where you’re not awake but not completely unconscious either.

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