The Shame of Body Shaming

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As a humanist I can not imagine making someone feel badly,  especially for something like weight or height or some other result of their genes, their health and their circumstances but this is an all to common occurrence. In fact ‘fat’ has become a dehumanizing insult, ‘Fat’ is the new ‘ugly’. People in western cultures have a new and terrible way to drag other humans down: ridiculing and bullying based on their body. This is particularly nasty when one considers how many reasons a person may be overweight.

Body Type:

  1. Ectomorph:  Ectomorphs are skinny with a small frame, light build, small joints and lean muscle. Usually they have long thin limbs with stringy muscles, narrow shoulders with a fast metabolism making this body type the most resistant to weight gain.
  2. Mesomorph:Mesomorphs have a medium sized bone structure, athletic body, and they typically have a considerable amount of lean mass.
  3. Endomorph: Endomorphs have a larger bone structure with higher amounts of total body mass and fat mass, and this extra fat seems to resist most efforts to get rid of it. The endomorph body type is solid and generally soft, and gains fat very easily. Source and More Info

There are numerous other causes for a person to be overweight:

  • Energy imbalances can cause overweight and obesity. An energy imbalance means that your energy IN does not equal your energy OUT. (.I.E. lack of exercise).
  • Medical conditions: Some genetic syndromes and endocrine disorders can cause overweight or obesity.
  • Several genetic syndromes are associated with overweight and obesity, including the following.
    • Prader-Willi syndrome
    • Bardet-Biedl syndrome
    • Alström syndrome
    • Cohen syndrome
  • Endocrine disorders: Because the endocrine system produces hormones that help maintain energy balances in the body, the following endocrine disorders or tumors affecting the endocrine system can cause overweight and obesity:
    • Hypothyroidism. People with this condition have low levels of thyroid hormones. These low levels are associated with decreased metabolism and weight gain, even when food intake is reduced. People with hypothyroidism also produce less body heat, have a lower body temperature, and do not efficiently use stored fat for energy.
    • Cushing’s syndrome: People with this condition have high levels of glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, in the blood. High cortisol levels make the body feel like it is under chronic stress. As a result, people have an increase in appetite and the body will store more fat. Cushing’s syndrome may develop after taking certain medicines or because the body naturally makes too much cortisol.
  • Tumors. Some tumors, such as craneopharingioma, can cause severe obesity because the tumors develop near parts of the brain that control hunger.
  • Medicines: such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, antiepileptics, and antihyperglycemics can cause weight gain and lead to overweight and obesity. (source)

All of these are out of a person’s control and don’t take into account lifestyle, cultural upbringing and other life situations a person may be in that has lead them to be overweight. For example some people use food to cope with the bullying they are receiving to begin with.

“The next time you see a fat person, you don’t know whether that person has a medical condition that caused them to gain weight,” Thore added. “You don’t know their mother just died. You don’t know if they’re depressed or suicidal or if they just lost 100 pounds. You don’t know.” (source)

This short list should show why shaming someone for being overweight is so ignorant. The same rules apply to being underweight, tall, short or the multitude of other physical reasons people bully and torment other people for. The lack of empathy and understanding in body shaming is staggering. It can have disastrous consequences such as depression, social anxiety, low self worth,  Anthropophobia (fear of people) and other social phobias, eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia and suicide.

The problem is compounded by electronic communication and cyber-bullying which provides a bully with a virtual anonymity.

Also cultural glorification of unrealistic standards of beauty such as being skinny or big breasted for women or being muscular and have a a full head of hair for men. Beauty standards  very from culture to culture  as well.

In short regardless of what shape or condition a person’s body is in shaming a person for their body is uninformed and cruel. If anyone ever calls you fat in a disrespectful way you are well within your right to retort with an F-Word of your own.

 

 

 

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Trump Set To Make This An era of Alternate Facts And Discrimination.

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Trump is set to celebrate Natgional Day Prayer by signing an executive order allowing what the Trump administration is calling ‘greater religious liberty’ while critics say it will open the door to discrimination based on religion. According to leaks the order will include:

  • Require all federal departments and agencies to respect statutes and Supreme Court decisions that make clear the free exercise of religion applies to all people, of all faiths, in all places, and at all times—and that it is not merely the freedom to worship.
  • That religious organizations include all organizations operated by religious principles, not just houses of worship or charities.
  • Instructs agencies, “to the greatest extent practicable and permitted by law,” to reasonably accommodate the religion of federal employees, as required by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • Instructs the secretaries of health and human services, labor, and treasury to finally grant relief to the Little Sisters of the Poor and others not exempted from Obamacare mandates on contraception and abortion-inducing drugs.
  • Ensure that consumers buying health insurance on the Obamacare exchanges have the option to buy plans that don’t cover abortion or subsidize plans that do.
  • Prohibits the federal government from discriminating against child welfare providers, such as foster care and adoption services, based on the organization’s religious beliefs.
  • Adopts the Russell Amendment, instructing agencies to allow religious organizations to hire in accordance with their faith principles.
  • Effectively rolls back the Johnson Amendment by instructing the Treasury Department to ensure that it doesn’t revoke nonprofit tax status because a religious group speaks on politics.
  • Instructs agencies to refuse to recognize any decision by a federally recognized accrediting body that revokes or denies accreditation to an organization because of religious beliefs.
  • Instructs agencies not to take adverse action against federal employees, contractors, or grantees who express their belief on marriage outside of their employment, contract or grant; and that agencies should reasonably accommodate such beliefs inside of employment, contract, or grant.  (source)

The order, if signed, will provide legal protections for people who are opposed to abortion, pre-marital sex, same-sex marriage and so on. The order is worded so one could indiscriminate for a wide gamut of reasons and hide behind religious freedom. Legal experts do doubt the act’s ability to withstand legal scrutiny:

“This executive order would appear to require agencies to provide extensive exemptions from a staggering number of federal laws—without regard to whether such laws substantially burden religious exercise,” said Marty Lederman, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center and an expert on church-state separation and religious freedom.

The exemptions, Lederman said, could themselves violate federal law or license individuals and private parties to violate federal law. “Moreover,” he added, “the exemptions would raise serious First Amendment questions, as well, because they would go far beyond what the Supreme Court has identified as the limits of permissive religious accommodations.” It would be “astonishing,” he said, “if the Office of Legal Counsel certifies the legality of this blunderbuss order.” (source)

Still however the leaked draft makes discrimination legal and it could effect everyone. Religious conservatives are the biggest hypocrites in modern culture and their leader Trump is pandering to them again. Political moves like this are the reason why all freethinkers must continue to fight religious fundamentalism. Educate, write letters, protest, blog, tweet…whatever it is you do because political moves like this effect everyone and only please the most backwards thinking of modern culture.

Fact Checking

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In 2012 we published an article on conspiracy theories and explored what they are and some of the basic psychology behind them. It is a scary fact that conspiracy theory websites are seeing an increase in traffic. What’s worse some of these conspiracy theories are dangerous i.e. holocaust denial or vaccine scares. According to Dr. Nicholas Terry, a history lecturer at Exeter University , who has monitored Holocaust denial online for 10 years and is co-editing a forthcoming book, Holocaust and Genocide Denial: A Contextual Perspective, (1) holocaust denial websites are increasing in number and amount of traffic.

Conspiracy theories wouldn’t last long people knew how to check facts. Perhaps a failure of the education system or culture or both. Either way in light of this here is our contribution:

How To Check Facts:

  1. Consider the Source: Who is providing this information? Are they qualified? Any reputable source will have or be willing to provide their education, sources or research. If it doesn’t fit (i.e. a mechanic writing a website on vaccines or an engineer providing information on history like the holocaust) or they are unwilling/unable to provide sources, qualifications…etc. then you should be skeptical of the information being provided.
  2. understandUnderstand Science:  It is actually fairly easy to come to a basic understanding of what constitutes science. What is Science, The Scientific Method, Understanding Research Papers , more understanding research papers.
  3. Logic: Recognizing a valid logical argument is also easy to learn. Logic 1, logic 2, and logic 3 (personal favorite).
  4. Compare: Is the information consistent with other findings? Consistency doesn’t necessarily imply truth but does lend credibility to the facts provided. This crucially involves number 5.
  5. Be Open Minded: If an alternative source of information challenges what you already feel is true then you must be open to the possibility that facts you previously believed might not be true. This is the hardest to do once you have made up your mind but a crucial part of learning. Open Mindedness

There are also numerous websites now  dedicated to fact checking and debunking the myths, pseudosciences and conspiracy theories spiraling around in popular culture.

  1. Snopes.com: One of the big ones. First established in 1995 in it’s 22 years it has faithfully been debunking everything from politics to advertising. If there is a popular concept out there snopes has probably looked into it.
  2. Scienceornot.com: “This website will help you separate real science from nonsense truth-1030x771that’s masquerading as science.” A great site that can help anyone determine if the science they are looking at it is true or not.
  3. Quakwatch: Quack is primarily about the pseudosciences but has a lot of information about other science hoaxes and rumors as well.
  4. Sciencebasedmedicine.org: Another great one that examines science and medical controversies.
  5. factcheck.org: Primarily American politics but another great resource.

There are some good organizations and publications as well:

  1. CSICOP: Committee for Scientific Inquiry of Claims Of the Paranormal. Recently shortened to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) to be more suitable to the broad range of topics they investigate. The also publish the Skeptical Inquirer a great bimonthly magazine committed to skeptical exploration of scientific, medical and other claims.
  2. councilThe Council For Secular Humanism: The council has been fighting religion, the pseudosciences and paranormal claims for more then 20 years. It also publishes Free Inquiry Magazine
  3. James Randi Educational Foundation: Randi has been famously offering a million dollars to anyone who can conclusively prove a pseudo-scientific claim, it has never been won. He went on to found his educational foundation ( Randi was by the way involved with CSICOP’s founding many years ago as well). JREF also has a handy list of resources.
  4. The RationalWiki: This site is so good we often use it a source ourselves. Everything Aliens to Zoology covered in articles in a scientific, non-biased way.

There are dozens, perhaps, thousands of skeptical, atheist, humanistic websites, publications and organizations dedicated to the truth. Wikipedia has a pretty good list , Atheists United’s list is pretty exhaustive as well. As long you are willing to do a little research and stick to reliable resources then you should never have a problem getting to the truth or the very least knowing when to doubt information being provided to you. The trouble lies in the fact the not enough want to make the effort and so are being duped by cleverly worded lies and misinformation.  Our hope is this little list helps a person or two sort truth from lies.

Sources:

  1. New online generation takes up Holocaust denial

The Post Truth Era

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Everyone values truth and honesty but it has never been so hard find. We are swimming in a sea of memes, misplaced quotes, debunked science, biased news programs, dishonest political leadership, fraudsters, scammers and the untruthful. Misinformation is getting so out of hand that sociologists and other experts are starting to label our current era as the ‘post-truth’ era.  They may very well be right and if they are that is something everyone must be fighting before we are plunged too deep into an era of ignorance, superstition and fear.

Post Truth:

‘Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’ – Oxford Dictionary

The term started as a description of  the political use of appeal to emotion to sway voters but is steadily increasing to include the unfounded trust of unreliable sources such as social media posts and memes, celebrities, television and radio shows, viral videos, talk shows and rumors. More and more people using post truth to describe an era where true facts are scarce and less and less people can tell the difference between fact and fiction.

The Dangers of the Post Truth Era:

Hoaxes: A hoax is a falsehood presented as truth and differs from other forms of dishonesty in that it is done deliberately.  This is a problem as old as civilization itself and is unlikely to change. There are hoaxes that are mostly harmless such as celebrity deaths hoaxes and or a viral video (in most cases). However most of the time a hoax has some form of harm it does. Why do people do it then?

  • Attention:  A hoax is certainly a good way of satisfying this basic human need.
    piltdown

    The Piltdown man, in 1912 amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson claimed he had discovered the “missing link” between ape and man. Was later revealed to be a fraudulent attempt to bolster his career

    Examples include the balloon boy hoax or imposters such as Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (Clarke Rockafeller)  or Grey Owl

  • Greed: Promoting a product or committing fraud for financial gain. Business and industry do a lot of viral marketing. Some of these campaigns are legitimate like the space skydive or Pepsi’s race car driver prank but other flat out dishonest like Hunting for Bambi or the Mini Cooper robot
  • Contempt: A hoax committed out of hate or to discredit a competitor.
  • Self-Interest: A Hoax committed to promote a personal belief or opinion.
  • Fun: No apparent reason for the hoax other then the committer must have thought it was be fun or a prank of some kind

Hoaxes, regardless of their intention, fool millions of people everyday. They can cause panic like anthrax scares to injury to financial loss like in Ponzi schemes.

Conspiracy Theories: I did a write about this one and in it I summarized that while exploring the possibility of a conspiracy for the sake of the truth is noble these theories too often get out of hand and drive unhealthy levels of fear and paranoia. The anti-vaccine movement touted by the likes of Jenny McCarthy caused so many to deny their children vaccinations that formerly controlled or eliminated diseases started to resurface, many died.

Memes: A new and popular source of misinformation on the internet. Richard Dawkins first used the term to describe an ideas, symbols, trends or other cultural phenomena that are passed from one person to another and act like viruses in the way they spread. This is also the source of the word ‘viral’.

Memes are as old as civilization itself and things went ‘viral’ long before the internet. Some kroy-smallexamples include  ‘I think therefore I am‘ coined by Decartes in 1637 or ”To be or not to be, that is the question’ from Shakspeare’s Hamlet in 1603. In more more modern culture we have ideas like Kilroy was here. It’s origins are debated but it started during WWII and came to mean many things from allied unity to general mischief. Another popular one was ‘What me worry?’ that was made popular by Mad Magazine but was already a culture joke by the 1960s.

It’s hard to pinpoint when memes started on the internet but some of the early examples include  ‘All your base belong to us’ taken from the opening to a 1989 Genesis game called Zero Wing,  the hamster dance and the dancing baby. These days memes on the internet take the form of viral videos and pictures with text. This great infographic has a good history of internet memes.

Celebrities as sources: We have always looked to role models for advice and leadership. As kids we looked to our caregivers and teachers, as we got older we may also look to coaches, friends or other trusted people in our lives. In some cases this certainly makes sense. For example I would rather ask my lawyer for advice on legal matters or talk to my parents about family problems. What doesn’t make sense is trusting a famous person we have never met to know what’s in our best interest as a person or group or culture.

In a 2013 study a study published in the medical journal the BMJ an assistant professor at McMaster University looked into why people value celebrities’ opinions and found three major factors:

  • Marketing: ‘Celebrities transfer their desirable attributes to products and use their success to boost their perceived credibility.’
  • Psychology: ‘People are classically conditioned to react positively to the advice of celebrities, experience cognitive dissonance if they do not, and are influenced by congruencies with their self conceptions.
  • Sociology: ‘The spread of celebrity medical advice as a contagion that diffuses through social networks and people’s desire to acquire celebrities’ social capital’

A desire to be like a celebrity and cultural conditioning gives celebrities credibility they often don’t deserve. These people are great at acting, singing…etc. but following their advice is as dangerous as following any strangers advice. Even in the case where they are experts (i.e Ken Jeong is a licensed medical doctor)  following their advice is risky and their giving it is often irresponsible.

Biased/Non-Partisan News: We touched on this in briefly before. In the post we summarized why news is so often negative and influenced by the ratings race, which is in turn a result of greed. Also it has become widely known that you don’t often hear of corporate crime because of fear of losing sponsors, another problem with greed. Reliable news is out there but hard to find.

Pseudo and bogus science: This is a topic so large people have written entire doctorbooks about it like James Randi’s Flim Flam or Carl Sagan’s Demon Haunted World. The list of pseudosciences has gotten to be humongous and longer every year. What they all have in common is a lack reliable proof. None of these are accepted as reliable alternatives to conventional medicine or treatment for anything. Tidbits of bogus science get circulated as memes and put people at risk for ignoring advice from a professional or not seeking the proper care at all.

Misinformation has gotten to be so prevalent that a recent Standford University showed that Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website. The recent pizzagate fiasco exemplifies why this is so dangerous.  Part of this is because of a mistrust of mainstream media. A recent Gallup poll shows trust in mainstream media is at an all time low, down to 32% and even lower among 18-49 years old, down to 26%. So it makes sense people are turning to alternatives. The trouble is these alternatives are no better or worse.

So who can we trust?

It sometimes takes a bit of searching to find a news or information source that is trustworthy.  Depending on the subject experts recommend the following:

    • Consider the source: Who authored the information and what are their credentials? Any reliable source should have credentials readily available or be willing to provide them. You might only need to check the works cited/bibliography to validate information provided.
    • Look for Bias: An article on the safety Noname’s snow tires published on Noname’s website or a site funded by Noname is going to be high risk for bias. Check who owns or maintains the source of information you are being provided.
    • Verify: Is the information verifiable? Other sources should provide the same information in the same context. This is especially true of academic sites. For example a study published at the Mayo Clinic website could easily verify if information on a specific illness is legitimate.
    • Dates and Times: When was the information published? Generally the newer the better except in specific cases of primary studies which will usually state that more research is needed.
    • Educate yourself: Learn how to recognize a a good argument and sound logic. Standford has a great free course on logic provided by Standford or MIT’s free online course is another good one Learning to recognize a good argument and some common fallacies can go a long way to making sure what your seeing or reading is true or not.

How do We Fight It?

No need to explain why we should fight the spread of misinformation and get out this ‘post-truth’ era. I would hope everyone reading would agree that misinformation is dangerous and that we all have a responsibility to fight it. In no particular order:

  1. Call it out: Never let misinformation go unchecked. Most places, especially on the web, will allow you to comment or give feedback, use it. Never be afraid to point the flaw in a logic, the corporate funding behind a study or why a picture with words is just a picture with words (memes).
  2. Letters and Emails: On old and still effective way of pushing for change. If a smart business receives enough complaints about something they will make changes. Politicians will listen, especially when people complain in large numbers. An approaching election is a great time for a letter writing campaign.
  3. Get the right information out there: Start your own website, blog or radio show. Cite your sources  well and you will help people that listen or visit.
  4. Support a cause: Organizations like CSiCOP and Adbusters have long been fighting misinformation and are among many that deserve our support
  5. Boycott: If you know a source of information that is consistently unreliable or biased..etc. then never go there and encourage others to do the same. Money talks and that news channel, website or whatever will either have to change or lose viewers/listeners. This is passive-aggressive but effective in large numbers

When our friends believe that a website can offer medical advice, when controversial business tycoons can become president, when the line between satirical and real news becomes blurred and the actual news cares more about ratings then the truth and even our political leaders lie to us everyday then it is time to fight back. Our tagline ‘Education is the key’ was used because it is through discussion, investigation and a commitment to the truth that we can help fight the sea of lies we all risk drowning in.

Sources: 

  1. The Museum of Hoaxes
  2. NPR.ORG
  3. Slate.com
  4. Snopes.com
  5. Encyclopedia Britannica
  6. Flim Flam
  7. Demon Haunted World
  8. Stanford University/Coursera
  9. MIT online
  10. Investopedia.com
  11. The BMJ.com

James Randi steps up again

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—Original Post—

A month or two ago I sent James Randi an email about Therea Caputo the ‘Long Island Medium’  because I thought someone with that kind of influence needed to expose her before she could hurt anyone else. He didn’t reply to my email but instead did something much better: this and it made my day! A few choice quotes that I really like:

The Learning Channel has, sadly, recognized — along with so many other such outlets — that pseudo-science attracts viewers. They’ve reached their own private nirvana with Ms. Caputo.

Yes indeed unfortunate that this fraud still brings in millions, billions worldwide.

But much more importantly to us, such performances seem to prey on people at their most vulnerable moments — those who have suffered the loss of loved ones — and these mediums use such grief to make a buck. Psychologists tell us this keeps the grieving stuck in their grief, rather than going through the natural stages of acceptance that are healthy.

This is what upsets me about this the most. If she wasn’t defrauding the grieving not likely much anyone would care.

Until either the government steps in and puts psychics in the same category as Ponzi schemes there will be millions to be made on the backs on the bereaved. For an intuitive and charismatic person like Caputo getting their share of these millions is like stealing candy from a baby, and just as ethical.

Grief

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages

Grief (The Canadian Mental health Association)

Remembering Anneliese Michel

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July 1st 1976 a 23 year old Anneliese Michel died of dehydration and malnutrition. She weighed a measly 68 pounds at the time of her death. She was in the care of her parents and some priests at  the time, so how could she possibly have died that way? Because of an archaic Catholic dogma that lead her devout parents to seek an exorcism instead of proper medical care.

Anneliese had Grand Mal epilepsy, not demonic possession. Demons, a fairy tale designed to scare believers and sometimes used as a metaphors for various subjective evils.  However, thanks to movies like The Exorcist a surge in its practice has resulted in numerous violent and negligent deaths such when Mario Garcia almost killed his mother in law or Carolyn Shea who barely survived a family member shoving a crucifix so far up her nose it reached brain or this whole list of victims and this one (warning: a little disturbing).

Which brings me to this at which I am both saddened and sickened.  There are many ethical issues with this:

  • Fraud: With such easy access to information in the modern age it is hard to comprehend that someone would honestly believe in the literal existence of demons and the effectiveness of exorcisms. Clearly some do and the Larsons are laughing all the way to the bank whether they actually believe it or not.
  • Indoctrination: If these young teen girls actually do believe in possession and the ability to exorcize demons then their parents, elders and educators (they were home schooled) have failed them and that is very sad.
  • Exploitation: Three teenage girls being used in this way is also very sad. To make the situation even worse their own father is responsible for using their ‘teen appeal’
  • Ignorance and misinformation: This leads people to believe something that simply isn’t true and so propagates ignorance. Any enemy of knowledge and education is enemy of this blog.

Teen appeal: Most teenagers live at home with no serious expenses and some even have part-time jobs. Any money they have is for spending and so teenagers make for a potentially lucrative market. Three attractive teenage girls striking a pose makes this a pretty obvious attempt to sell to the same cohort as boy bands and Twilight movies. This is what some marketers call ‘teen appeal’.

These harms, like in any pseudoscience or the paranormal, apply here. People suffering from physical and mental illnesses are not getting the help they need when their illnesses and afflictions are attributed to mythical creatures that only exist in Catholic dogma.

It is doubtful that the Larsons would ever listen to reason. As such it is everyone’s responsibility to educate. Hopefully education will dissuade potential clients from using them and instead getting their loved ones the professional help they need. So, please if you hear of someone speaking of recruiting the Larson’s help or talking of demons and exorcisms educate them and you will save them from wasting their money and quite possibly save a life.

No Stopping the Quackbuster

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—Original Post—

From Macleans.ca

The prognosis is not good for charlatans. Nor does the future look bright for wellness practitioners—the earnest touch therapists, energy healers and reiki masters—who post their business cards at health food stores. Those operating on the margins of the scientific and medical communities were served notice last November when Joe Schwarcz received a $5.5-million grant to further his work as Canada’s leading quackbuster.

This is fantastic news, Mr.Schwarcz is doing important work and to hear that he is getting the support he needs gives me hope in the battle against those who would lie and do harm for profit.

“Like Joe, I’m appalled by the amount of sheer nonsense out there about health, the environment, everything,” said Trottier, co-founder of electronics company Matrox.

Well said, it is really is astonishing the amount of misinformation in the world about issues that are important to your health and wealth.

Schwarcz is taking on health fads like acai berries and noni juice, rhinoceros horn aphrodisiacs, coffee enema cancer cures (“You can’t find the people who gave testimonials—they’re dead”), anti-wrinkle diets, crusaders against artificial sweeteners and detox products (“any scheme that claims to detoxify the body smacks of quackery”). He takes issue with health tips propagated by celebrities like Suzanne Somers (“She claims mistletoe extract helped her breast cancer; never mind that she had a lumpectomy and radiation treatment”), and Demi Moore, who swears by leeches. “Websites for herbal supplements are the worst, bilking the public out of millions of dollars,” said Schwarcz, who scans hundreds of Internet sites a week. “They all sell the same conspiracy theory: their cure from the Amazon is being suppressed by the evil alliance between science, doctors and Big Pharma. Look, there is no conspiracy to keep cheap, effective cures from the public.”

This is just fantastic, the whole article is well worth reading. Here is Schwarscz’s website, please help spread the word about his important work.