Archive for the ‘Pseudoscience’ Category

Amatokin

Friday, December 5th, 2008
amatokin-ad-small.jpgAd published December 2008. Click to enlarge.

Amatokin is an expensive facial cream that claims to reduce wrinkles by using stem cell technology. I discovered an ad for Amatokin (right) recently in a glossy fashion mag, and read the copy because I was curious about what spurious claims the manufacturer was making about stem cells in their product. Turns out, the ad doesn’t bother to make any actual claims. Rather, the association between stem cells and Amatokin seems to be one generated by publishing unregulated ad copy that puts these two phrases within close proximity.

I’m disappointed, I have to say. I had hoped the ad would claim (preposterously) that there were actual stem cells in the cream, which would be the second grossest thing ever. Living human cell lines to slather on your face! (You know what that reminds me of? The first grossest thing ever.) There is an implication that the cream instead contains some magic molecule that promotes growth of your own stem cells: “That’s why science is seeking to activate the potential of our inherent adult stem cell reservoirs.”

But that has a pretty serious ick factor too: overactivation of stem cells = cancer. Fortunately, there is absolutely no evidence that this cream has any effect whatsoever, in either stimulating stem cells or fighting wrinkes. But pseudo-reporting about this dubious product is smeared all over the interwebs, much of it lazily plagarizing the same copy (here, here, here, here, here, here). Charmingly, a major talking point is the “controversial” aspect of Amatokin:

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Answers Research Journal is full of bogus

Saturday, January 19th, 2008

arj.jpg

In the conflict between evolution and creationism, the weapons of each side are impotent in the hands of the other. The discipline of evolutionary biology uses the scientific method to observe, hypothesize about and test aspects of the natural world. Creationism, the literal translation of Scripture, requires faith. Creationists won’t find legitimate evidence of a young earth because adherence to the scientific method has only yielded data showing that our planet was formed billions of years ago. And likewise, scientists can’t “test for God” because science is unable to explore the supernatural.

Consequently, the whole “peer-reviewed journal” thing has always been a big sticking point in the evolution/creationism conflict. Scientific journals are reputable because the results published therein are reviewed (and often rejected, trust me!) by independent experts. The whole system sounds credible and reliable because for the most part, it is. It’s pretty much the reason why rational-minded folks accept and understand evolution.

Anti-evolution advocates try to fight science with science, but it doesn’t really work. Only pseudoscience, faulty science or scientific-sounding rhetoric has been presented as evidence for a young earth or an intelligent designer. But Answers in Genesis, the organization behind the Creation Museum, has added “peer-reviewed journal” to the creationist arsenal. Their Answers Research Journalis a professional, peer-reviewed technical journal for the publication of interdisciplinary scientific and other relevant research from the perspective of the recent Creation and the global Flood within a biblical framework.” Three articles have been published so far. After the jump I discuss the wacky “science” employed in an article that investigates on which day the microbes were created.

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Another naughty example by the NYTimes

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

This week The New York Times published an article by Nicholas Wade entitled “Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written in Our Genes?” It reads like a parody of science writing, it’s so full of flimsy logic. Of course it’s just the latest article among many (e.g. 1,2,3) that have inappropriately invoked adaptive explanations for complex human characteristics.

The article describes the views of Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginia who researches human emotions and morality. Haidt proposes that our morality is rooted in two fundamental structures, one “ancient” and one “modern.” Through cross-cultural research, he has also concluded that human morality is based on five moral systems, which may vary in importance but appear fundamental across most cultures. Some cultures emphasize the rights of the individual, for example, while others reinforce group cohesiveness. All this sounds interesting and enlightening, until the argument is overextended… and these moral structures become adaptations. “Religious behavior may be the result of natural selection,” according to Haidt, and “‘Those who found ways to bind themselves together were more successful.’” Haidt also claims that the “ancient” and “modern” moral structures evolved independently in humans, at different points in our history: before and after the emergence of language. Interesting speculation, but where’s the evidence?

To be honest, I’m more frustrated with the NYT‘s Nicholas Wade than I am with Haidt. I haven’t read Haidt’s research, so he very well may have been careful to explain the potential evolutionary implications to his anthropological and psychological findings. But consider the opening paragraph in the article:

Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.

What biologists? Wade does not cite a single biologist, let alone an evolutionary biologist, in the article. For shame! This is downright inaccurate reporting.

So what’s the big deal? Two points. First, evolutionary biology is an actual field, in which empirical data are collected and theory is developed. Science has a method, in which hypotheses are formed and tested; you can’t just make up your own, convenient as it might be. This process generates evidence, which can support a claim. Without evidence, it is not science. Second, evolution is contentious in the public sphere. And small wonder! Haidt’s claims on the role of religion in human evolution—such as they might be—are absolutely, positively, not science (and not the first we’ve heard, either). Yet to a lay reader, the claim that morality is an evolutionary adaptation, proposed by someone with an academic degree and covered enthusiastically in the NYT science section, may seem like a perfectly legitimate representation of contemporary evolutionary theory. It’s not! Let’s not confuse titillating speculation with science, lest the power of basic science research to explain the world around us be destroyed.

Free library talk in Philadelphia on… asteroid symbolism?

Monday, July 30th, 2007

suntree4.jpgThe blog malcolmxpark.org describes a dubious upcoming event in the Philadelphia Free Library’s Summer Reading program. Author Jacob Schwartz, PhD has written books, magazine articles and computer software on asteroid symbolism and “maintains an active astrological practice in a Philadelphia suburb.” He will be speaking at the Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library on August 8 at 4 PM, where participants can learn about astrology and create their own birth chart.

Schwartz makes some peculiar claims about his Asteroid Signatures software package, purchase price $350:

Strangely, the names of asteroids relate to Earthly events and persons with the names! For openers, when Bill Clinton was born, the asteroids Monica, Paula, and Williams formed a stellium opposite asteroids Hillary and Gingerich! When George W Bush was elected president in 2000 and 2004, the asteroid Busch conjoined asteroid Washingtonia!

Where are the asteroids relevant to you at significant dates in your life? The collective names in your life are as unique as your signature! That’s why we call this program Asteroid Signatures! Type in your name, or any other name, and the program provides the positions of those asteroids at any time you select, the discovery dates and discoverers are listed, along with the keywords used in their original citation by the Minor Planet Center.

You’ll discover an awesome level of personal connection between asteroid names important to you and important dates in your life when those names connected.

Schwartz and his associates at astrosoftware.com reject accusations of pseudoscience and make detailed claims to scientific legitimacy. In fact, Schwartz runs fairly far afield from his degree in communications with this claim:

Asteroids point to an evolutionary breakthrough for humanity. If we accept the premise that the naming of new planetary bodies correlates with new centers of consciousness within us, then suddenly there are thousands of new centers of consciousness lighting up in the cosmos and in our minds. If we are on the precipice of a quantum leap of consciousness where a greater proportion of the brain will be utilized, then the awareness of asteroid relevance can stimulate those newly utilized brain cells. Is asteroid symbolism the next step in our evolution?

There’s a comprehensive collection of expensive products for sale through astrosoftware.com and, presumably, Dr. Schwartz himself. I hope the Free Library does not end up enabling a scam artist.