Skeptics with a K: Episode #179


Olympic Cupping, windy picnics, breast feeding, and religious communities. Plus superstitious athletes, forklift trucks, magic tomatoes, and derailed trains. Up at the snatch, it’s Skeptics with a K.

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  1. #1 by Susan Hofstader on August 11, 2016 - 15:58

    Regarding the cupping thing…I am amazed at this whole Chinese-medicine angle being accepted without question, apparently because that’s how it’s being marketed now. I can’t believe I’m the only one who remembers the scene involving cupping in the film “Zorba the Greek” (1964), and from a quick wikipedia search I found reference to an essay by George Orwell, “How the Poor Die,” about his experience in a public hospital in Paris where he was subjected to that “treatment” when he showed up to be treated for flu/pneumonia in 1929 (and watched a lot of other poor folks not survive such ministrations). Wikipedia’s article noted that cupping appears to go back to ancient Egypt, and based on the dates it was in use in Europe long before it showed up in China, so the whole “Chinese medicine” angle is basically a bullshit cover story for a barbaric Middle-Eastern/European practice since abandoned (in civilized places) due to the rise of scientific medicine. I got the impression that one reason there was no scientific commentary on the effectiveness or lack thereof of cupping is that it’s just too absurd to be worth studying, for at best all it does is create a “hickey” like mark, and at worst there are the burns and infections, etc.

    On the other hand, the stuff about cupping came up because of its use by Olympic athletes. There are scientific methods that can improve athletes’ performance and endurance, and use of those methods is a good way to get eliminated from competition (i.e., what the Russian team was doing). By definition, pretty much, anything that is allowed is going to be ineffective, otherwise it would not be allowed.

  2. #2 by Robin on August 12, 2016 - 06:39

    I hear a cat or a child in the background during the ‘breast are best’ talk.

    Or it might be Colin doing remote telepathy…….

    I think that might be more plausible

  3. #3 by Graham on August 12, 2016 - 16:01

    Found an article from January 2015 discussing the rise of this nonsense amongst the American swim team. One swimmer refers to it as “…quite the fashion statement!”.

    When I then checked to see if with as with several other swimmers she’s posting photographs of the results of cupping I was unable to locate any images.

    The article is linked below for anyone who is interested in deconstruction quackery propaganda.

    https://www.swimmingworldmagazine.com/news/cupping-therapy/

  4. #4 by Susan Hofstader on August 17, 2016 - 02:39

    One more thought about “cupping”–the perceived benefit is not so much a “placebo” effect as a “hitting yourself with a hammer” effect…feels so good when when it stops.

  5. #5 by Julia on August 19, 2016 - 05:12

    On the subject of baby-related skepticism, maybe you could look into umbilical cord blood banking? I work admin in an ob-gyn office, and cord blood is being touted (by brochures from the cord blood banking companies) as a source of future miracle cures for every condition under the sun, but it’s far from free to have it harvested and saved. Plus there’s the issue of “wait maybe the baby might have some more immediate use for this placental blood, like if we let it go into their body instead of putting it in a bank and maybe never seeing it again”.

  6. #6 by Heather on September 9, 2016 - 11:08

    Just caught up with this episode this week, and while Alice is right that mothers should be free to choose whether to breastfeed, and if and when to switch to formula, she’s wrong or inadequately informed on just about every other aspect of the issue, including what the research tells us.

    It’s just not true that infant feeding research fails to control for the several mainly social variables that affect a mother’s experience. RCTs are out, for ethical reasons, but there is a large amount of good evidence that shows the health impact of infant feeding both on the baby (short and long-term) and on the mother (mainly to do with the risk of later breast and ovarian cancers) – and this applies globally, including the resource-rich West . This year, the Lancet had a review: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)01024-7/abstract

    So, infant feeding has a public health impact, and the challenge is to support and enable breastfeeding while avoiding individual pressure or worse, moralising judgments if individuals do not breastfeed (for whatever reason). This is in the face of worldwide commercial promotion of the sale of formula milk, which has done a reasonable job of undermining confidence in the ability of most women to breastfeed happily, comfortably and effectively.

    In research terms, formula feeding is the ‘intervention’, given that the physiological default is breastfeeding. Formula is cow’s milk, highly suited to the early nutrition of calves, but devoid of the dynamic, living, health, growth and anti-infection elements of breastmilk, developed over millennia for the early nutrition of humans. Current epigenetic work shows breastmilk has had a profound effect
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4011062/
    https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40168-015-0104-7
    and the widespread use of formula has serious risks.

    We should not promote breastfeeding by criticising the individuals who don’t do it. But almost 90 per cent of UK mothers want to breastfeed, so the task is to make it a better experience for them so they are not in pain, not overwhelmed, and not restricted by it….given that almost all mothers in Scandinavian countries breastfeed for many months and beyond, we don’t need to feel this is impossible.

    I could go on – but I’d add one more thing. To say ‘you can’t drink alcohol and breastfeed’ is another example of policing women’s bodies. The facts are clear: moderate alcohol intake is safe:

    https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/wp-content/dibm/alcohol.pdf

    I agree that milk donations from randoms on the internet are best avoided, but your reactions were OTT. Very few people actually go ahead with this (occasional, informal milk sharing among friends or relatives is a little more common, though still rare). Breastmilk, btw, is never ‘sterile’, and nor does it need to be.

(will not be published)