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Aggregating Skeptical Thought

Rhinestone-encrusted cigarette lighter/tape recorders

Like any good Skeptic a large part of applying skepticism comes down to understanding to some extent human psychology.  Understanding how people think or why they think the way they do can go along way to understanding someone else’s beliefs.

Any good Skeptic should also be fully prepared to turn their critical eye on themselves. Knowing common logical fallacies people make can be used to improve the quality of your own arguments but also highlight weaknesses in other’s arguments.

When evaluating medical claims of herbal supplements I usually apply a “back of the envelope” litmus test to such claims. Failing this litmus test doesn’t inherently disqualify something 1) because its not a fool-proof system 2) I’m not a medical doctor but it does raise some red flags.  Some of those tests are:

“Kitchen Sink” claims
Does this [insert alt med herb/treatment] claim to cure all known diseases, like cancer, memory loss, toxicity and diarrhea simultaneously?

Argument from Naturalness
Does it seem like the biggest thing this [insert herb/claim] has going for it is that its “All Natural”. It shouldn’t need to be said but the claim “natural” is a meaningless term. I’m sure you love your All Natural Wheatgrass/Guava/Arsenic fruit smoothie but I’ll pass.

Does it have Side Effects?
If it doesn’t have any side effects it probably doesn’t have any *main* effects either.

I’ve never really compiled a list of these little litmus tests before and this is certainly not complete. I’d be interested in hearing anyone else’s tests or if someone has already put together a list of these before.

Just like “alt-med” claims there are other little litmus tests that could be applied in specific areas such as investments. Certainly all claims should be thoroughly understood but sometimes you need a cheat sheet.

Here’s a list from U.S. News & World Report on investment scams, The Psychology of Investing Scams. Below is a brief outline to a rather brief article.

While the old adage “if its too good to be true” should always be followed, here are some specific variations on a theme.

The “Phantom Riches” Tactic
If you are guaranteed decent (or extraordinary) and steady returns on an investment, you could end up in a Madoff-style investment/Ponzi Scheme.

The “Source Credibility” Tactic
Anybody can claim to be a financial planner but his she really? Is she registered with an accredited/recognized trade group, like the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers. Are the products sold/marketed registered with the SEC?

The lack of credentials or the registered status of an investment doesn’t disqualify it from being a sound investment but you’ve just removed some level of independent verification and you really, really need to understand how the investment vehicle can generate capital including the risks. You’ve certainly increased your homework.

The “Social Consensus” Tactic
This is fundamentally peer pressure. Everyone else is investing in mortgage-backed securities. Why aren’t you? This is a tough one because in many instances because, “I invested in something because [insert person whose judgment you trust] invested as well.”

The “Reciprocity” Tactic
I call this the “there’s no free dinner” rule. If you are given a free dinner at a nice restaurant and all you have to do is sit through an investment seminar, be prepared for the hard sell. You’ll see this with Buyer’s Clubs where you’ll get a key to a “new car” and all you have to is sit through the sales pitch. The Nigerian Email scam is a grandiose version of this, although this one plays very much to someone’s greed.

The “Scarcity” Tactic
Just as you might assume, “this opportunity will only last for the next 10 minutes so CALL NOW!!!” I think QVC or HSN have perfected this tactic, there’s a reason they show a running clock and slowly dwindling numbers of “items left in stock”. Any long-term investment (and most short-term ones as well) worth being involved in will not disappear overnight. The rhinestone-encrusted unicorn cigarrete lighter/tape recorder on the other hand is only available While Supplies Last.

Cross-posted at FreeThought Fort Wayne

Filed under: Health, Internet, Skeptic, , , , ,

The Epidemiology of Global Climate Change

I am first going to admit to 3 things. I am not a doctor, I am not a climatologist and I know you can’t have an epidemiology (see definition) of global climate change. Oh and the book Conjuring Science (see Brain Food) inspired me to write this post.

I have been having a number of discussions regarding Global Warming with someone who I very much wish could see past their conservative politics and actually appreciate the considerable scientific evidence. Personally I think he disagrees with the policy recommendations that many global climate change “believers” propose and therefore rejects the science of global climate change. Obviously this is backwards but nonetheless his position.

I searched for sometime to come up with a good way to explain why I personally accept global climate change. He has put forth a number of different reasons why global warming isn’t real (Milankovitch cycles, delayed CO2 forcing) but there are a few statements that I think are the most common and the most credible accusations to the average Joe,

  1. I’m (the Skeptigator) not a climatologist and therefore unqualified to make any reasonable judgment on my the validity of climate science, which is true.
  2. He brings up Global Cooling and Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb as recent examples of science having it wrong and therefore what makes Global Climate change as a scientific position that much better than those.
  3. His last allegation is that if you follow the money, those scientists who say global warming is real get funding, those who don’t are marginalized within the scientific community and therefore do not get the funding. This creates a disparity in the ability of believers finding evidence and deniers not being able to have the resources to find evidence.

As I have time and as I become confident that my rebuttals are logically sound and easily explained to a non-believer I will post them. What I would like to do is explain my rebuttal to the first allegation.

Let me first say that this claim is probably some kind of logical fallacy, probably some variation of the Argument from Authority, meaning if I were some kind of authority I therefore could be believed to be speaking the truth but since I’m not therefore I am not speaking the truth. This might not be correct but let’s be realistic even if it were true pointing out logical fallacies really carry any weight for a normal person. I can’t say, “That’s an Argument from Authority logical fallacy and therefore I don’t have to dignify your statement with a response.”

Anyway, perhaps the best analogy is the science behind smoking and your health. Put simply, we know that smoking is bad for your health by the same methods that we know that global warming is caused by mankind. Let me be clear I don’t know anyone that denies that the Earth is warming anymore, the argument usually lies in whether mankind is the cause (and what we should do about it, but let’s figure out how to accept responsibility first and then work from there).

There are 2 primary methods for doing studies regarding the effects of smoking on health. There are empirical methods (or replicatable demonstrations) for determining causation and there are statistical methods for determining causation. Well, first and foremost you really can’t use replicatable demonstrations since you can’t take one person and clone them and then make one smoke and one not smoke and then see which one got lung cancer or emphysema. Not only is this scientifically impossible it’s probably ethically wrong even if it were. So we are stuck using admittedly an inferior way of knowing something by using epidemiological-statistical methods.

Epidemiological-statistical methods can never give you 100% certainty they can only give you varying confidence levels. A particular study by the EPA will come to the conclusion that second-hand smoke is detrimental to your health with a confidence level of 95% (p <.05). What does that mean? It means that the scientists are pretty damn sure that the results of their study show that the net effect is detrimental to your health. In fact, when it comes to this kind of study having a p-value less than or equal to .05 is about as certain as you are ever going to get.

There are enough studies out there that the preponderance of the evidence/results of these studies show that a staggering 87% of all lung cancer in the U.S. is the direct result of smoking. These studies had to use epidemiological methods for determining that smoking/tobacco use were the single largest contributing factor to the development of lung cancer. If you control for age, weight, sex, ethnicity, income, access to healthcare, work environments and whatever else they do science finds over and over again that smoking is the key factor.

What does this have to do with global warming? You guessed it. We can’t rely on empirical methods alone for determining causation of global warming for several reasons. First and foremost, the time scales involved are too great for humanity to be able to make any reasonable, direct observations, second the scope of observing planetary changes and interactions to the climate in real-time is beyond our current technology. So what are we left with? Our understanding of small-scale, regional effects on weather and lots of statistical data. We know that when you remove most of the trees from a large tropical island there is marked decrease in rainfall. Why is that? It’s because the removal of those trees has interfered with the natural cycling of water from ground to atmosphere. This example is a good demonstration of the kind of man-made interference that has local effects that can be understood and more importantly it reveals important mechanisms of how our planet works.

We can analyze all of this statistical data (with computer models, simulations) and begin to make predictions about what should be happening in the future and validate those predictions against what should have happened in the past. We can continue to refine these models as our understanding of different variables increases. Obviously this is an oversimplification of the process involved but the basic idea is there. Over time we have slowly “controlled” for factors as we were able to measure them, understand their impact and interactions in a very complex system. We have gotten to a point that the evidence is significant enough that the IPCC not only released a consensus report on the reality of global warming but gave a 90% confidence level that mankind is responsible for that warming. What gets lost in translation for many people is that a scientific consensus is a significant thing and that a 90% confidence is pretty damn confident. To put that in perspective, I’m mixing sciences here, many studies regarding the detrimental effects of second-hand smoke have confidence levels of 80-85%. Is long-term exposure to second-hand smoke detrimental to your health? Who knows? But we are 90% sure that mankind is responsible for global warming.

Do I personally think a lot of the rhetoric surrounding global climate change and the imminent disaster to mankind is alarmist? Yes. I personally think people are turned off by all the doom and gloom that surrounds global climate change. The opposing viewpoints are too often given equal weight in the media and too often the talking heads from either side are the worst kind of caricatures, you have the “poor gas in the lake it don’t matter” deniers on one end and the “shit in a bucket and smoke eat grass” hippies on the other.

I think if people could accept that we are the cause of Global Climate Change we can begin to make some concrete changes NOW for our future. Let’s do it now while the cost of those changes is small. Should gas be artificially jacked up to $10.00/gallon? No that’s stupid. Let’s do some reasonable things. Start replacing the most commonly used light bulbs in your house with CFLs. The new 2008 EPA CAFE standards in the U.S. are a good start, let’s keep raising the bar. There’s a whole bunch of common sense things that can be done now. I’ll have to compile a list of things sometime.

Filed under: Environment, Health, , , , , , ,

The Society of Homeopath(ic thug)s

I know I’m late to the game here but thought I would do my part. I am also reprinting Quackometer’s original post in full and uncensored. Read more on why I feel compelled to do so at Orac’s blog.

The Gentle Art of Homeopathic Killing

By The Quackometer

The Society of Homeopaths (SoH) are a shambles and a bad joke. It is now over a year since Sense about Science, Simon Singh and the BBC Newsnight programme exposed how it is common practice for high street homeopaths to tell customers that their magic pills can prevent malaria. The Society of Homeopaths have done diddly-squat to stamp out this dangerous practice apart from issue a few ambiguously weasel-worded press statements.

The SoH has a code of practice, but my feeling is that this is just a smokescreen and is widely flouted and that the Society do not care about this. If this is true, then the code of practice is nothing more than a thin veneer used to give authority and credibility to its deluded members. It does nothing more than fool the public into thinking they are dealing with a regulated professional.

As a quick test, I picked a random homeopath with a web site from the SoH register to see if they flouted a couple of important rules:

48: • Advertising shall not contain claims of superiority. • No advertising may be used which expressly or implicitly claims to cure named diseases.

72: To avoid making claims (whether explicit or implied; orally or in writing) implying cure of any named disease.

The homeopath I picked on is called Julia Wilson and runs a practice from the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough. What I found rather shocked and angered me.

Straight away, we find that Julia M Wilson LCHE, RSHom specialises in asthma and works at a clinic that says,

Many illnesses and disease can be successfully treated using homeopathy, including arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders, emotional and behavioural difficulties, headaches, infertility, skin and sleep problems.

Well, there are a number of named diseases there to start off. She also gives a leaflet that advertises her asthma clinic. The advertising leaflet says,

Conventional medicine is at a loss when it comes to understanding the origin of allergies. … The best that medical research can do is try to keep the symptoms under control. Homeopathy is different, it seeks to address the triggers for asthma and eczema. It is a safe, drug free approach that helps alleviate the flaring of skin and tightening of lungs…

Now, despite the usual homeopathic contradiction of claiming to treat causes not symptoms and then in the next breath saying it can alleviate symptoms, the advert is clearly in breach of the above rule 47 on advertising as it implicitly claims superiority over real medicine and names a disease.

Asthma is estimated to be responsible for 1,500 deaths and 74,000 emergency hospital admissions in the UK each year. It is not a trivial illness that sugar pills ought to be anywhere near. The Cochrane Review says the following about the evidence for asthma and homeopathy,

The review of trials found that the type of homeopathy varied between the studies, that the study designs used in the trials were varied and that no strong evidence existed that usual forms of homeopathy for asthma are effective.

This is not a surprise given that homeopathy is just a ritualised placebo. Hopefully, most parents attending this clinic will have the good sense to go to a real accident and emergency unit in the event of a severe attack and consult their GP about real management of the illness. I would hope that Julia does little harm here.

However, a little more research on her site reveals much more serious concerns. She says on her site that ‘she worked in Kenya teaching homeopathy at a college in Nairobi and supporting graduates to set up their own clinics’. Now, we have seen what homeopaths do in Kenya before. It is not treating a little stress and the odd headache. Free from strong UK legislation, these missionary homeopaths make the boldest claims about the deadliest diseases.

A bit of web research shows where Julia was working (picture above). The Abha Light Foundation is a registered NGO in Kenya. It takes mobile homeopathy clinics through the slums of Nairobi and surrounding villages. Its stated aim is to,

introduce Homeopathy and natural medicines as a method of managing HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria in Kenya.

I must admit, I had to pause for breath after reading that. The clinic sells its own homeopathic remedies for ‘treating’ various lethal diseases. Its MalariaX potion,

is a homeopathic preparation for prevention of malaria and treatment of malaria. Suitable for children. For prevention. Only 1 pill each week before entering, during and after leaving malaria risk areas. For treatment. Take 1 pill every 1-3 hours during a malaria attack.

This is nothing short of being totally outrageous. It is a murderous delusion. David Colquhoun has been writing about this wicked scam recently and it is well worth following his blog on the issue.

Let’s remind ourselves what one of the most senior and respected homeopaths in the UK, Dr Peter Fisher of the London Homeopathic Hospital, has to say on this matter.

there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent malaria and you won’t find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get malaria, people may even die of malaria if they follow this advice.

Malaria is a huge killer in Kenya. It is the biggest killer of children under five. The problem is so huge that the reintroduction of DDT is considered as a proven way of reducing deaths. Magic sugar pills and water drops will do nothing. Many of the poorest in Kenya cannot afford real anti-malaria medicine, but offering them insane nonsense as a substitute will not help anyone.

Ironically, the WHO has issued a press release today on cheap ways of reducing child and adult mortality due to malaria. Their trials, conducted in Kenya, of using cheap mosquito nets soaked in insecticide have reduced child deaths by 44% over two years. It says that issuing these nets be the ‘immediate priority’ to governments with a malaria problem. No mention of homeopathy. These results were arrived at by careful trials and observation. Science. We now know that nets work. A lifesaving net costs $5. A bottle of useless homeopathic crap costs $4.50. Both are large amounts for a poor Kenyan, but is their life really worth the 50c saving?

I am sure we are going to hear the usual homeopath bleat that this is just a campaign by Big Pharma to discredit unpatentable homeopathic remedies. Are we to add to the conspiracy Big Net manufacturers too?

It amazes me that to add to all the list of ills and injustices that our rich nations impose on the poor of the world, we have to add the widespread export of our bourgeois and lethal healing fantasies. To make a strong point: if we can introduce laws that allow the arrest of sex tourists on their return to the UK, can we not charge people who travel to Africa to indulge their dangerous healing delusions?

At the very least, we could expect the Society of Homeopaths to try to stamp out this wicked practice? Could we?

Filed under: Health, Internet, Law, , , , , , , , ,

Terrorists attack with Morgellons… or maybe its aliens

I am going to start by saying I am neither a doctor nor biologist so there may be some other more specific problems with the following article but I ain’t smrt enough to pick up on it.

Apparently the folks at TheParanormalReport.com are reporting, Morgellons – New Disease, or Man-Made Weapon of Terror?, [queue scary music, dum dum dum]. Found via Disinformation. This kind of raises the alert level on my baloney-detector.

Morgellens allegedly is an unrecognized skin disease (like eczema) that contains some kind of mystery fibrous material that won’t “burn until it has been heated to 1700 degrees F”. Accepted medical diagnosis is actually delusional parasitosis a psychological disease in which the inflicted believe that there are bugs crawling under the skin.

This article goes way beyond simply detailing the symptoms of the disease. The author, Jim Swartz of The Conspiracy Journal, not only accepts the existence of the disease (as something real and not psychosomatic) but then postulates that it is actually a man-made bio-weapon that is “configured to receive specific tuned microwave, EMF and ELF signals and radio data.”

Again, I’m no scientist but the author then draws the following conclusion (under the section Morgellons and NanoMachines) that “[the fibers] have no eukaryotic cells, no cell membrane. Meaning that Morgellons is not a parasite, it is not biological, it is a machine.” Um… it’s a machine? That seems like kind of a leap.

The author continues with the obvious conclusion to this madness:

Other nanoconfigurations associated with Morgellons disease carry genetically-altered and spliced DNA or RNA. The nanomachines which precipitate Morgellons thrive in alkaline ph conditions and use the body’s bio-electric energy and other (unidentified) elements for power. There is evidence that certain of the tiny machines possess their own internal batteries as well. The Morgellons nanomachines are configured to receive specific tuned microwave, EMF and ELF signals and radio data.

At this point, why this is happening is anyone’s guess. We do know that Morgellons is commonly found in all body fluids, orifices and often even hair follicles, and are believed to routinely achieve total body systemic penetration.

If these findings are correct, and Morgellons is nanotechnology capable of taking over biological systems, the question remains whether or not these nanomachines were the result of an accident, or a deliberate release with the intention of infecting people for some unknown purpose.

It is almost as if Morgellons is in the process of reconstructing people into an entirely different life form; a cyborg-like creature, both biological and machine. As well, with the reports that the Morgellons nanomachines are capable of receiving radio signals, this could indicate that each infected person/system would be able to communicate with other Morgellon sufferers, creating the potential that each person would be like a single brain-cell of a larger, artificial intelligence.

Are we facing an invasion by machine intelligence, or is this a twisted attempt by some unknown group or government to achieve the ultimate control of humankind? Considering the current world situation, it would not be unreasonable to imagine that someone could stoop to such evil as releasing something such as Morgellons upon an unsuspecting planet. Sometimes the smallest thing can cause the biggest problems. We have to take a deeper look, beyond the affliction itself, before we will find any substantial answers.

Needless to say, or perhaps I do, there are those who disagree.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on it. And here’s what the Mayo Clinic has to say.
Here’s a link to a ABC Primetime show that was done on it.
The CDC is apparently going to convene a task force to investigate it.

Filed under: Health, Internet, Skeptic, , ,

More Evolution News?

I wish I could read the full article on this, Could Huntington’s mutation make people healthier?, but New Scientist has this one gated. sigh…

 In case you don’t know what Huntington’s disease is (and I didn’t) here’s the wiki

Filed under: Evolution, Health, ,

Evolution News?

I’m not one to be too politically correct but “It’s No Delusion” as the title to an article about the surprising results of research regarding schizophrenia seems a bit insensitive to me. If Scientific American keeps it up they might start making people think they are being laughed at or persecuted…. sorry.

Anyway, the research seems to support a natural selection for schizophrenia, sort of. Or perhaps schizophrenia is perhaps an unfortunate by-product. Here’s a good quote…

One [proposed theory] holds that schizophrenia is a “disorder of language” and that the illness is an unfortunate consequence of the development of human speech, expression and creativity. “Whenever you get strong selection, it’s like a big plus, and you can drag along a lot of minuses,” he says. “You can think of schizophrenics as paying the price of all the cognitive and language skills that humans have—they have too many of the alleles that taken individually…might have positive effect, but together they are bad.”

Filed under: Evolution, Health, ,

buydca.com is being shutdown?

The drug DCA was brought to my attention on a recent podcast from The Skeptics Guide to the Universe (although none of their shownotes specifically list this as a topic of discussion I believe it was Podcast #101 (6/20/2007), if that’s not correct someone correct me and I’ll edit this post).

The basic (or most important) claim regarding the drug DCA (dichloroacetate) is that it is a cure for cancer. Now obviously this should automatically throw a red flag up for any normal person however this claim seems to have at least tentative scientific support, read about it in New Scientist (21 Feb. 2007).

The difference with this drug and other drugs is two-fold. The first difference is that apparently it is not a patentable compound, although I can’t find out why. Since this compound cannot be patented this has obvious ramifications for it achieving FDA approval, most notably what pharmaceutical is going to go to the time and expense to send this drug through clinical trials if they can’t patent it and therefore even make their money back let alone a profit.

 The second difference is in how this drug appears to fight cancer. I’ll quote from the New Scientist article I link to above since they say it so much more eloquently than I could,

DCA attacks a unique feature of cancer cells: the fact that they make their energy throughout the main body of the cell, rather than in distinct organelles called mitochondria. This process, called glycolysis, is inefficient and uses up vast amounts of sugar.

Until now it had been assumed that cancer cells used glycolysis because their mitochondria were irreparably damaged. However, Michelakis’s experiments prove this is not the case, because DCA reawakened the mitochondria in cancer cells. The cells then withered and died (Cancer Cell, DOI: 10.1016/j.ccr.2006.10.020).

Michelakis suggests that the switch to glycolysis as an energy source occurs when cells in the middle of an abnormal but benign lump don’t get enough oxygen for their mitochondria to work properly (see diagram). In order to survive, they switch off their mitochondria and start producing energy through glycolysis.

Crucially, though, mitochondria do another job in cells: they activate apoptosis, the process by which abnormal cells self-destruct. When cells switch mitochondria off, they become “immortal”, outliving other cells in the tumour and so becoming dominant. Once reawakened by DCA, mitochondria reactivate apoptosis and order the abnormal cells to die.

This drug appears to show a significant amount of promise, unfortunately this article is very light on the potential side effects (most likely because of the lack of any scientific study). The wikipedia article does list pain, numbness, gait disturbances as welll as neuropathy and neurotoxicity as a result of thiamine depletion as possible side effects (all have citations for further research). I won’t even pretend to know what all of that means I’m just giving the information ;)http://www.glaxier.com/12/

So beyond this writeup on a promising cancer treatment drug (which I admit is cool in and of itself) the main reason for this post is the amount of attention and misinformation being promoted within the alternative health community, everything from “this is a miracle cure without side effects” to Big Pharma conspiracies. One of the most egregious examples has been the site, buydca.com, operated by Jim Tassano which actively sells DCA “for animals” to anyone. Well guess what? The FDA has finally shut down the sale of DCA on this site although the specific allegations I can’t find anywhere (and if what Orac reports from thedcasite.com’s messageboards is true there is likely no official record), although its sister site, thedcasite.com is still putting this information out there while not selling anything.

I think it’s very important that something like this is run through clinical trials because while it might be everything it claims to be there may be some very significant side effects that need to be discovered and dealt with. The last thing you want is someone with very operable and curable breast cancer forgoing “traditional” treatment and instead takes “harmless DCA” that turns out killing her because of thiamine depletion or liver toxicity.

I think Kate Law, Cancer Research UK’s clinical trial director has the money quote,

“It is important that all new treatments are carefully investigated to make sure they are effective and safe for use in patients. DCA is no exception, so we are pleased that the FDA has taken the decisive action to limit the sale of DCA over the internet.”

If you want a lot more information from someone much, much smarter than I check out Orac’s blog Respectful Insolence regarding the latest on DCA also he has an excellent roundup of all his other posts on the subject.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Health

Autism and Mercury

The autism-vaccine connection is going to the U.S. Federal Claims court in which 4800 parents are claiming that they governments vaccination program caused their childrens autism. Read about it further at Slate, Thimerosal on Trial.

Here is some further reading from Steven Novella, MD of the New England Skeptics Society and Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe fame, the article is Fear Not: Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism.

Here is another article, Thimerasol is not responsible for Autism, from James R. Laidler, MD of AutismWatch and is brought to you by the same group that does Quackwatch.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Health, Law, Science

The Skeptical Diet

I am overweight. In fact, I am proud to say I am overweight. Ok, actually I’m proud to say I am overweight because I am no longer obese. On December 27th, 2006 I began what I am now going to promote as the “Skeptical Diet”. 

It was during my families 2-month long Christmas get-together-o-rama that begins in early-December and well into January now. I was feeling fat and bloated and sick of being fat and bloated. I won’t even describe the heart-burn (or “chest napalm” as I fondly remember calling it). I am 29 years old. I am 5′ 6”…. and I weighed 205 pounds. Whoa there fatty. My BMI (the Body Mass Index which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight, what’s yours?)  was 33.1. Well into the obese range (anything above 30 is obese).  As of this morning May 17th, 2007 I am now at 183 with a wonderfully overweight BMI of 29.5.

You too can follow the “Skeptical Diet” all you have to do is follow my simple step-by-step program. I hope you are sitting down for the secret. The secret is… I thought myself thin, yes that’s right I used the Laws of Attraction and thought myself thin… Ok, sorry.

Honestly I just exercised and ate better. No secrets. In fact, if you go to the NIH’s Department of Health and Human Services website and read their “Controlling your weight” section that is pretty much exactly what I am doing. That’s it, no gimmicks.

For the science buffs this is how this simple equation works if you want to lose weight.

Total energy consumed (calories) < Total Energy used (physical activity)
where Total Energy = Daily Energy (normal activity) + Additional Energy (exercise)

Let’s break this out into something a little more complicated.

Total energy consumed (calories) – Daily Energy used = Additional Energy to be used (how much exercise you need to maintain your weight).

Most people with a desk job (I’m a web developer) and no other significant sources of exercise (I determined walking to the basement fridge for a Dr. Pepper doesn’t count) will not burn enough calories (Daily Energy used) to, at minimum, maintain their weight. I was only burning about 1800 calories/day if I was lucky but I was consuming 2500. And don’t kid yourself you probably are to. So take my numbers and do the math

2500 (Total Energy) – 1800 (Daily Energy) = 700 (Additional Energy)

Holy obesity batman! That’s a lot of calories to burn everyday, trust me 300-500 is pretty damn good. So being the smart people that you are you’ve probably guessed that I ran out and bought a Vibrobelt and whatever the hell this is to give me a jump. Ok fine I didn’t do that either I’m trying to spice this post up a little. I just moved the 2500 down to about 2000 and bingo 200 calories of exercise before I start to lose weight.

So exercise plus reduced calorie diet. If only someone had thought of that. You know Jared from Subway? Guess what, he “started a reduced calorie diet by eating two Subway submarine sandwiches a day” and “incorporating exercise into his daily routine”.

That’s the secret or you could “Ride the Snake!!!”

So you’ve read this far and you want to know how much should I weigh? As a rule of thumb I use the BMI and shoot for dead in the middle which for me is 140-ish however that is likely to be an unreasonable goal and quite frankly my goals are usually much more short term (like I want to get into the 170’s but the time the kids school year is over which is very soon, eek!). But that begs a bigger question, “How do you calculate your ideal weight range?” and that turns out to be a more difficult question to answer and many medical studies suggest the BMI for many is very unreasonable.

In a recent Salon.com article Julia Wallace reviews the new book by Gina Kolata, Rethinking Thin. Her new book, although not receiving a favorable review mostly on her writing style,

“…attempts with some success to provide a comprehensive history of the diet, a survey of 20th-century weight-loss research, and a personal saga of several determined dieters enrolled in a University of Pennsylvania study on weight loss.”

The main point of her book goes to the heart of what many new medical studies are beginning to show, that your weight has more to do with your genetics than your diet and that a strict definition of cookie cutter thin is actually in many instances unhealthy. Here’s a small sampling, 70% of body weight is genetic, people with higher BMI’s live longer, or Higher BMI = Lower risk of breast cancer.

As a skeptic I find it a lot easier to suspend my skepticism especially when offered the easy way out in regards to things like my health. A pill for weight loss? I know the science may be behind this concept but without some heavy duty behavior modifications such as those that often accompany gastric bypass surgery these types of things are just as likely to fail or at best be temporary reductions in weight as the Atkins or South Beach diet.

Technorati Skeptic

Filed under: Health, Science

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