Best Explanation of the Placebo Effect

Ben Goldacre gives the best explanation for the placebo effect I’ve seen yet. He explains it in such a way that even me, a fledgeling skeptic, can understand it. Even moreso, he explains it so well that *I* could explain it to someone else. Please watch the video here:


WIDW – A Family Story

Welcome to the first installment of the “Why It Doesn’t Work” series. Today I’m talking about the ideomotor effect. ideomotor.html

When I was little we had a Ouija Board in our house. It was fun to play with because the little planchette seemed to skate across the surface of the board all by itself. When I had sleep overs, we had “seances”. It was fun and kind of scary because ghosts were talking to us by moving what we called “The little thing”.

Girls at that age were, as they are now, boy crazy. So of course the big thing we all wanted to know what “What are the initials of the man I’m going to marry”. Even then I found it a little odd that one set of initials that came for me was MM. Those were my maiden name initials. It was fun to get ANY kind of feedback, no matter what the initials were. We all just laughed and guessed who it would be, naming boys we knew at school.

When I got a little older, my Mom told me a story about her grandmother (my great grandmother). She and her friends were having their own “seance” while they waited for my great grandfather to arrive. One of the questions that she asked was “When will my husband die?”. The planchette pointed out the date of the following day.

According to my mother, my great grandfather died in a car accident that next evening while on the way home from work.

I have not verified this story with any of the other relatives. I don’t know if this is true or if it is just part of the family mythology. Either way, my mother swears by this story.

Here’s why a spirit or ghost did not predict the death of my great grandfather: Ideomotor effect.

The ideomotor effect is an unconscious motor behavior. In other words, we do it without realizing that we’re doing it. Dowsing and a pendulum work the same way. What happens is that our muscles twitch involuntarily. It’s similar to when we breathe without thinking about it. If you hold a pendulum you’ll notice that after a brief period it will start moving on it’s own. This is an example of the ideomotor effect.

Here is a video that shows an example and explains in further detail how the ideomotor effect works:

Homeopaths Admit It’s Just Water

Thanks to an intentional mass overdose in Australia, homeopaths in that country have been forced to admit that there isn’t even a single molecule of substance in their concoctions. Please see the article here:

For those not familiar, homeopathy follows the concept that “like cures like”, so if you’re vomiting, you would take a homeopathic preparation of nox vomica, an agent that makes you vomit. Homeopathic preparations are highly diluted. This is an article about how to make your own homeopathic remedies:

As you can see from these instructions, by the time you are done dilluting, there is nothing left of the original substance. There comes a certain point called the Avogadro Constant where, after you have diluted a substance so far, not even a single molecule remains.

Homeopathy relies on a concept called “water memory”. According to them, water retains a “memory” or non-chemical imprint of the original substance. By that reasoning, the water would “remember” everything it has come in contact with. Like, oh, urine, feces, beer, etc.

Thanks goes out to the skeptics who “overdosed” themselves and put their bodies on the line for science.

Octomom-Examining The Evidence

Recently on I wrote a piece on Octomom’s plastic surgery denials. For those not following the debacle that is Nadya Suleman, a year ago on Jan. 26th she gave birth to the first live octuplets. These eight children are in addition to the previous six she already had. Yes. She has 14 children.

Nadya Suleman recently did a bikini photo shoot revealing her new, hot bod. She claims, in an interview with Us Magazine, that she dropped 145 lbs in a year. Suleman went from 270 lbs when she gave birth to 125 lbs simply by working out for 90 minutes 3 times a week and eating healthfully.

This is a lesson in thinking critically and examining the evidence. By the end of this article I will have shown that Octomom is, in all likelihood, lying.

Here is a photo of Suleman not long before she gave birth. Please notice the stretch marks.

Consider, too, with such an incredible weight loss, there would be extra skin.  Yet if you look at her bikini shots, there is no sign of the stretch marks OR the extra skin that would naturally be left over. Suleman claims that her friends call her “Rubberband” because of the way she “snaps back into shape” after giving birth.

I highly suspect that a tummy tuck was involved. If you look closely at her belly button, it is stretched vertically. When a tummy tuck is performed, the skin is released from the muscle wall and pulled downwards towards the feet. The extra skin is then removed. There is also no sign of the stretch marks seen above.

Take a minute to zoom in on this photo. Notice there is no evidence of stretch marks over her hip and lower abdomen. Even if she is as elastic as she claims, where did the stretch marks go? I suspect they went into a medical waste bin somewhere.

I am also curious about something else. If you zoom in closely on the crease of her left hip there is something that may be keloid scarring above the second polka dot from the left. Keloid scars look like bubbles of skin. Keloids can occur when scar tissue keeps growing after the incision is healed. If that IS keloid scarring, where did it come from?

This is just one example of how you can use skepticism in daily life. Examine the evidence and draw your own conclusions. Don’t rely on just one source of information. But don’t stop looking when you find information that fits what YOU think the correct answer is.

Jumping on the Bandwagon

Today’s Logical Fallacy is called Bandwagon, also known as Peer Pressure. In this fallacy, the threat of rejection by a peer group (peer pressure) is used in place of fact or evidence.

This type of “reasoning” had the following format. Normally I would replace the big, scary X with something small, cute and fuzzy. But there’s only one in today’s format. So let’s take a deep breath, approach it slowly and talk quietly to it.

See? It’s a nice little x.

1) Person P is pressured by his/her peers or threatened with rejection.

2) Therefore person P’s claim X is false/true.

A real life adult example would be keeping up with the Joneses.

Jill: “Sweetheart, I heard that John is getting Marsha a new Porsche Cayenne for Christmas. No one drives mini vans in our neighborhood anymore. Let’s go get a new Cadillac Escalade. We HAVE to keep up appearances, after all.”.

Here Jill, Person (P) is feeling pressured to maintain an appearance of affluence in order to avoid possible or perceived rejection by her neighbors or community.

A simplified example would be:

Bob: Now Rob I know you believe that the earth is round but here in this community we don’t put up with that kind of nonsense

Rob: Don’t be silly! I never believed that.

This is a logical fallacy because a threat of rejection does not qualify as evidence.

Please note that the drive to “belong” can be a powerful incentive to overspend as in the first example or capitulate a firmly held belief as in the second example.

Dreaming Skeptically

I have been able to read in my dreams since I was a teenager. It’s nothing new. This morning was different. I found myself analyzing details of the dream WHILE I was dreaming. In other words, I was aware, in the dream, that I was examining specific aspects of it with a critical eye.

I dreamed that we lived in a beautiful old Victorian house. Our sons, instead of being 21 and almost 20, were 6 and 4. We had been out at night and when we came home there was a strange woman there in the parlor. She told us that her friend had called her because she had become very frightened and didn’t want to leave the kids alone.

It was at that point I noticed on the left hand wall there were seven large pieces of paper. While Hubby spoke to the stranger I looked at them more closely. At first it looked like jumbles of letters in a spidery hand. Then I realized that all the words and sentences had been written backwards. I thought, why would anyone write such complex sentences backwards?

Then I noticed the giant mirror on the right side as Hubby was telling the stranger “That chair you’re sitting in has been a real hot spot of activity along with most of the upstairs”.

In the mirror I could see that one of the pieces of paper on the left read “Give a portion of your gold each day to keep the ghosts at bay.”. And, in the dream, I realized that someone was trying to scam us because the “hot spots” Hubby was talking about was where the ghost hunters said there was lots of paranormal activity. So even in my dream I was analyzing the evidence that was presented to me and came to the conclusion that the ghosts or “hot spots” weren’t really real and that someone was trying to scam us.

I no longer ascribe meaning to dreams. They are simply the brain’s defrag process. It just amazes me that I have integrated skepticism so deeply into my life that now I’m even dreaming skeptically.

Newer Is Better

Today’s Logical Fallacy, at the request of our friend Sara is, the Appeal to Novelty or, Newer is Better.

Where yesterday’s Appeal To Tradition tried to use the idea that older is better as factual evidence, the Appeal To Novelty tries to pose the idea that because something is new it is automatically better.  This is a fallacy because it assumes that because something is new it is automatically better.

This fallacy has the following form with X’s being played by a pony today

1) Pony is New.

2) Therefor Pony is correct or better

Western culture seems to be prone to this fallacy especially when it comes to technology. The media and advertising have continually bombarded the US with the notion that newer is better.  The idea of progress and modernization (that has somehow become entangled with evolution) creating a “great big beautiful tomorrow”, to quote Walt Disney and the Carousel of Progress, also contributes to this fallacy.

An example of this fallacy might look like this: There are many people who love their ebook readers (Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Sony PRS-700, etc). They’re a big technological craze and although it has slowed a bit, there are still those that claim that eventually ebooks will replace their analog cousins.

Another example might be: (Using an invented product)

1) Introducing the brand new Titanium Pony! It doesn’t require feeding, Titanium Pony is always ready to play and best of all it doesn’t leave road apples! Get YOUR Titanium Pony today!

2) The Titanium Pony is better because it’s new.

In some cases this is NOT a fallacy though. Fresh fruit is better than rotted fruit. This is not because it is new or novel. So there ARE times when new is better and it is not a fallacy.

Olfactory Memory

Can you smell something that isn’t there? Have you ever been watching TV and suddenly you caught a whiff of what was on? For instance, someone pulls a steaming tray of fresh cookies out of the oven and, for just a moment, you smell cookies? Or a Vlassic commercial comes on and all of a sudden your head is filled with the sharp spike of vinegar?

There has been a great deal of research done on scent triggering memories. But what about visual stimulation triggering scent memory? Is that some form of dyslexia? I *am* dyslexic. When I get really tired or I’m in a hurry, I transpose letters or numbers. Could this be a backwards form of the standard olfactory memory? I have looked around and have been unable to find anything on this topic. If anyone can suggest websites that I can use to research this, I would be most appreciative.

Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed

This morning I saw the last 10 minutes of Ben Stein’s documentary ‘Expelled: Intelligence Not Allowed”. I had heard nothing about this until now and I have plans to record a showing on the morning of the 20th so that I can review it in full.

In the few minutes I saw, Stein uses the imagery of the Berlin Wall as being the barrier between scientists and intelligent design. He proposes that more be done to investigate the notion that if not some kind of god, then some sort of greater intelligence is responsible for the beginnings of life on this planet and the Universe as a whole. Of course this has been done with an additional emotional appeal to the ideals of freedom.

He even interviews Richard Dawkins. You can see that Mr. Dawkins is trying very hard to be kind and patient with Mr. Stein in answering his questions. I do wish that Dawkins would have explained that his lack of belief in a god has to do with a lack of testable evidence.

At one point Stein brought up the quote about the god of the old testament. Dawkins read the complete quote about that god being a blood thirsty misogynistic ethnic cleanser, etc. Then Stein asked if he believed in a kind, loving, gentle god. That would be the god of the new testament if I’m not mistaken.

Isn’t Ben Stein Jewish? My understanding, and please kindly correct me if I’m wrong, is that the Jewish people follow the old testament and the Torah, a book I am not familiar with. My reading of the old testament shows precisely what Mr. Dawkins says.

I’m looking forward to watching the entire documentary and I’ll post a review soon.

Pat Robertsons on Haiti

This morning on the Christian Broadcast Network Pat Robertson made a claim about the reason Haiti has had so many troubles. He states it is because they made a deal with the Devil in the 19th century for their freedom from France.

It’s times like this when it is very hard not to be a cynic. A cynic would have followed that claim up with something like “WTF Pat? Are you stupid?? What kind of crack are you smokin’??”

Haiti should be very proud of its history. In 1791, their ancestors started the only successful slave revolt in human history. It was the first black-run country. They have a rich heritage that deserves to be celebrated. Their revolution is considered a defining moment in African history in the New World.

Pat Robertson isn’t necessarily full of crap though. At least not from certain perspectives. According to the Wikipedia entry on the Haitian revolution (, “Historians traditionally identify the catalyst to revolution as a particular Vodou ceremony in August 1791 performed at Bois Caïman by Dutty Boukman, a priest.”.”

At one point in my life I was a Fundamentalist Christian so I understand the “logic” behind Pat Robertson’s claim. From his perspective Vodou is devil worship. The priest, Dutty Boukman, called on demons and the Devil, by fundamentalist reasoning, to free his country. When an entire country is given over into the hands of the Devil, no good can ever come of it.

This is, of course, no longer my perspective. This is an observation and explanation on Robertson’s reasoning. It in no way is meant to support his argument by Appeal To Widespread Belief.

This logical fallacy states that because something is widely believed, that makes it factual evidence. This reasoning is fallacious. We used to believe the world was flat. We know better now because evidence has shown otherwise. A belief is not necessarily factual. In this case, there is no scientific, testable evidence of a Devil. There is no scientific, testable evidence that Vodou has been effective.

Haiti has simply had to deal with unfortunate circumstances.  The recent earthquake is one more instance in a string of natural occurrences. There is nothing paranormal about it. This country has simply been victim to a host of natural disasters ranging from flooding and hurricanes to disease and drug trafficking. These, along with a public that lacks education, are the things that keep Haiti impoverished.

I would urge you to go to and contribute to the Haitian relief effort if you haven’t already.

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