I’ll Have a Side of Farver Beans and a Nice Chianti Please

There are talks of a restaurant called Flime opening in Berlin.  It has been getting much attention in German media because the restaurant has started a campaign to find donors.  The donors are not being asked for money or any type of investments into the company, instead they are being asked to donate body parts.  Supposedly ears, testicles and stomach fat are being asked for, so they may be turned into high class gourmet meals.  According to this soon-to-open restaurant they will follow old cooking habits of age old cannibalistic tribe of the Amazon.   

In Flime’s campaign, through German media they are calling for donors to be involved in with what they call the new diners movement.  Flime is also calling for “open-minded surgeons” as well.   It is no surprise that this campaign has stirred up a bit of controversy.  Already groups of protesters are fighting for a ban of this restaurant, claiming that it is highly distasteful and disrespectful following a case of real cannibalism which occurred in Germany in 2001. 

The inspiration, Flime says, come from a ritual called “compassionate cannibalism” in which the indigenous Brazilian Waricaca tribe would eat pieces of loved ones to help with mourning on their passing.

Michael Braun, the vice-chairman of Berlin’s Christian Democrat party is trying very hard to get to the bottom of what he feels is a “stunt” or “warped joke.”  Sadly he has had no luck. 

Braun said “it’s disgusting, not least because it wasn’t long ago that we had the case of the Berliner who was murdered by a cannibal,” referring to Armin Meiwes , who was sentenced to life in prison for murdering and consuming Bernd Jürgen Brandes in 2001.

Experts believe that Germany alone has approximately 800 followers of the underground cannibal movement.

I am almost 100% positive Germany officials would step in to assure something this disturbing wouldn’t happen.  The dangers of consuming humans can possibly be extreme.  Just research the outbreak of kuru in the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea, which came from something they called mortuary feasting.

References:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/26/cannibal-restaurant-flime-germany

UFO Spotted on Google Earth?

So as I was doing a quick search for some woo news, I stumbled across this photo. 

This was part of a collection by Google called ‘the most mysterious sightings ever.’  The most mysterious sightings ever, are you serious?  This picture isn’t that puzzling at all, when I first glanced at it, I was looking for the UFO.  I had no idea they were talking about the top of a man made structure, most likely a water tower.

It seems people just label anything that is spherical or circular a UFO.  No sightings of this gargantuan craft were ever reported, not even by the person driving the red truck in the photograph.  My favorite thing about this photo is the lonely road which travels right up to “UFO.” 

I laugh because I wouldn’t have even written this article if I didn’t see so many comments that “this is proof alien space craft’s have visited earth.”  “This is proof of a UFO, because Google earth doesn’t photoshop images,” well I guess I partially agree with that last statement, Google earth didn’t photoshop the picture but it’s not proof of a UFO, it’s proof of manmade structures.   Sadly it is also proof that some people are so blinded by a belief that they will subscribe to any possible piece of “evidence” as hard fact.

“Ectoplasmic residue…It’s the real thing.”

I was sent a picture last night of what some people are claiming to be “ectoplasmic” mist surrounding a females head. 

If you notice in the photo, the individual is wearing a coat and the “ghost” like mist appears to be right by her head.  It doesn’t take much to realize, that this apparition in mid manifestation is actually the woman’s breath.

Being a skeptic and paranormal researcher there are certain things I can’t stand in the field of paranormal research; one of those things is the claim of ectoplasm.  Ectoplasm (from the Greek ektos which means “outside” and plasma which means “something formed”) which was previously called teleplasm, is a term that was coined by French physiologist and noble prize winner Charles Robert Richet. 

Charles Richet

Richet a man with a passion for science and medicine also had a high interest in psychical research; he even served as president of the Society of Psychical Research located in London in 1905.  Initially Richet was close minded and shrugged off claims of psychic phenomena.  But in his book, Thirty Years of Psychical Research, published in 1923 Richet wrote that he was shameful he was one of the many that was among the willfully blind. 

Richet studied the claims of an Italian peasant named Eusapia Palladino, who was producing some very weird phenomena.  This is when Richet coined the term ectoplasm, explaining that is was some type of jellylike protoplasm that emanates from the medium. 

It is important to note that many researchers of the time felt Palladino was nothing more than a charlatan.  But the typical mindset of a scientist, Richet felt he couldn’t be duped, and defend Palladino.  Richet wrote “Even if there were no other medium than Eusapia in the world, her manifestations would suffice to establish scientifically the reality of telekinesis and ectoplasmic forms.”   Sadly for Richet, this wouldn’t be the case, ectoplasm was never proven authentic, in fact just the opposite.

Lots of ectoplasm cases had been proven to be nothing more than fraud. People using items such as cheese cloth, gauze, chewed paper, egg whites, muslin and even pieces of meat from chicken or cows. 

The way lots of mediums produced this feat was the real work of art, hiding these objects anywhere within reach, even in their own vaginas or rectums.  Some mediums even swallowed these objects and regurgitated them during the séance when the lights were out.

But the thing I find so fascinating is the evolution of this phenomena, how it went from a solid form to a mist.  How it went from protruding out of the orifices of mediums, to a lingering fog floating around alleged haunted locations.

I don’t mean to sound rude but it’s absolutely embarrassing, almost eye rolling to look at some photos that people think is authentic ectoplasmic evidence.  Of course now days ectoplasm only exist in photographs.  Personally, I liked it more when it was cheese cloth. 

Me and ectoplasm

Oxygen Causing Cancer to Spread

Have you ever heard that when someone who has cancer and goes in for surgery that as soon as the oxygen hits the tumor, the cancer spreads like a wildfire? For years I thought this was true. I have heard my parents, teachers and people I thought of as authority figures spew this claim out throughout the years. Well, today at work I was talking to my boss about her mother who has recently died from lung cancer when she said “I wonder if the cancer spread when they opened her up?” I instantly questioned if this is true, because if you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense. I mean if oxygen cause cancer to metastasize wouldn’t something like simple breathing do the same thing?

So, after some research I am happy to report that this is just a common cancer myth. The real reason cancer spreads is because the cancer cells get into the blood stream and travel to other parts of the body where they lodge and start growing. Although the origins of this myth are unknown, it may stem from when a patient undergoes surgery for cancer and later dies because the cancer has spread. Because an individual has had surgery friends and family usually become optimistic. When they find out the cancer spread, people tend to grasp for meaning and causality. They come to the conclusion that the surgery was the cause of the cancer spreading. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. There is plenty of published scientific data that supports surgery as the treatment with the best cure rate. Also surgeons may leave microscopic cancer cells which can cause cancerous tumors to grow rapidly, which could also lead one to believe that when the cancer hit the air, it spread.

So cancer can/does spread in some instances, before surgeries and after surgeries. But it has nothing to do with the cancer being exposed to oxygen when surgery is being performed.

References:

http://www.caring.com/questions/does-surgery-make-cancer-spread-faster

http://www.oncolink.org/experts/article.cfm?c=3&s=19&ss=50&id=1916

http://www.healthexpertadvice.org/forum/Cancer/Does-cancer-really-spread-after-a-surgery-51868.htm

Me and the Neti Pot

Lately I have been plagued with a serious series of insane sinus issues; complete with itchy watery eyes, scratchy throat, congestion of the head and the nose. All of these are pretty much tolerable except for the nose congestion. This year it seems to be worse than ever! One side is clogged and the other side is constantly dripping. It lasts this way for about 5-8 hours then alternates, like they are in perfect synchronization with each other. Saline spray wasn’t working and neither were any of the over the counter decongestants, in complete misery I was willing to try anything just to get a quick feeling of relief, the sensation of oxygen filling both nostrils, the feeling of comfortably breathing which we all take for granted so often.

I was told to try something called a Neti Pot. Quickly I had to ask what it was, the response actually shocked me. I was told it was something that looked like a tea pot that was filled with luke warm water and a salt solution. I was told that this salt solution was something that had to be bought strictly for the Neti Pot, I couldn’t just use regular table salt. Then what I heard next literally made me cringe, it sounded so bizarre I didn’t believe it.

After the Neti Pot is filled with the warm salt water solution, the individual is to lean forward and tip their head to the side and place the spout in one of the nostrils. The water travels up the nose and pours out the other side. That’s right; supposedly the water goes up one nostril and out the other. Insanely skeptical, I decided the only way to find out if this Neti Pot was real was to test it out myself.

First, I did some research on exactly how this device really works. I refrained from typing things like “Neti Pot skeptical” in the Google search because I didn’t want to bias my test. What I found was this: “The Neti Pot irrigates the sinuses with a steady, low-pressure, stream of warm water. If done properly, the water should flow into one nostril, up into the sinus cavities and out the opposite nostril. When we are sick, the mucus tends to thicken in order to trap viruses and bacteria. Pollen is also very sticky and may cling to the nasal passages. The warm salt water flushes dust and other debris out of the sinuses that blowing your nose may miss. Salt also has mild antiseptic properties and can kill some bacteria on contact. The salt also has some mild detergent effects. Some nasal irrigation formulas also use baking soda, which provides an extra level of cleaning. Neti Pots also work preventatively by cleaning out the sinuses, and have been proven effective as a treatment for chronic sinusitis.”

The word that caught my attention in that description on how the Neti Pot works is in the last sentence, the word proven. I instantly thought, I have to purchase this thing ASAP. So I went out my local pharmacy and dropped about $14 on my very first, personal Neti Pot.

When I got home I went right into the bathroom and opened my Neti Pot and found out the water used has to be distilled, so I quickly went into the kitchen to boil some water. After about 45 minutes everything was finally ready. I have to admit, the thought that I was about to pour salt water into my nose was a bit nerve wrecking. Hundreds of crazy thoughts were running through my brain. What if I choke? What if I drown? Finally after a few minutes and a quick pep talk, I placed the spout in my nose, leaned forward and tilted my head to the side.

The feeling was very weird, similar to… well, water going up your nose. My eyes started to water slightly and I thought, “Wow this is stupid.” Then it happened, a stream of water started to pour out my other nostril.

Instantly I started to laugh, which wasn’t a good idea, because it cause some of the salt water solution to drip down my throat. The taste is awful. I let about half of the pot drain into one nostril, when I stopped and switched sides. When I was finished, I let the excess water drain out of my nose and gently blew my nose into a tissue. Mucus galore. I have to admit, it’s very soothing and surprisingly I could breathe a little better. I wasn’t 100% normal but I was definitely breathing out of both nostrils.

So what do the doctors say about this home remedy? Is it really effective? Does the Neti Pot really work?

To my surprise E.N.T’s (ear, nose and throat doctors) actually recommend nasal irrigation by use of Neti Pots. They use this method as a way to clear away any crusting in the nasal passages. The basic explanation of how the Neti pot works is that it thins mucus to help flush it out of the nasal passages.

On WedMD it reports “A more biological explanation for how the Neti pot works has to do with hair-like structures called cilia that line the inside of the nasal and sinus cavities. These cilia wave back and forth to push mucus either to the back of the throat where it can be swallowed, or to the nose to be blown out. Saline solution can help increase the speed and improve coordination of the cilia so that they may more effectively remove the bacteria, allergens, and other irritants that cause sinus problems.”

On one of my favorite, Science Based Medicine, Dr. Harriet Hall cautions not to overdue Neti Pots she says “

A new study presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in November 2009 found that while short-term nasal irrigation is therapeutic, long-term use of nasal irrigation is harmful. Regular users of irrigation who continued using it had an average of 8 episodes of recurrent rhino sinusitis per year, while those who discontinued it only averaged 3 episodes per year. The investigators hypothesized that the nasal mucosa serves as the first line of defense, and irrigation depletes the nose of its immune blanket of mucus, thereby increasing the risk of recurrent infection.”

I know most people are thinking salt water solution, why not just use saline spray? Well truth be told, I thought the same thing, but study actually shows that saline spray is not as effective as nasal irrigation, that can be seen here:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18025315?itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum&ordinalpos=3.

So turns out medically this method does work. It doesn’t cure the common cold or even your sinuses, it does however provide temporary relief of horrible symptoms, just be careful and don’t overdo it.

References:

http://www.livestrong.com/article/26053-neti-pot-work/#ixzz0w4hfxfs6

http://www.webmd.com/allergies/sinus-pain-pressure-9/neti-pots

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=2841

Can Prayer Heal?

We’ve all heard it before. A friend has someone close to them injured or sick, and they ask for your thoughts and prayers. Can praying for the sick really help? According to an international study led by religious studies Professor Candy Gunther Brown, it can. In a study titled “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Proximal Intercessory Prayer (STEPP) on Auditory and Visual Impairments in Rural Mozambique,” Brown measured the effect of prayer on vision and hearing. The study found surprising improvements where glasses and hearing aids are not readily available.

“We chose to investigate ‘proximal’ prayer because that is how a lot of prayer for healing is actually practiced by Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world,” Brown said. “These constitute the fastest-growing Christian subgroups globally, with some 500 million adherents, and they are among those most likely to pray expectantly for healing.”
Brown and her colleagues carried out the study as part of a larger research program on the cultural significance and experience of spiritual healing practices.

Brown and her team studied the effect supposed healers has on people who had vision and hearing impairments located in Mozambique and Brazil.
The team used vision charts and audiometers to evaluate subjects in 14 rural Mozambican who had reported having some type hearing deficiency and 11 who had some sort of absence of vision. They carefully evaluated these subjects both before and after they received ‘proximal intercessory prayer’ (PIP). The reason Professor Brown and her team focused on vision and hearing impairments is because these ailments can be measured by mechanical devices such as vision charts and hearing machines. By doing this, the team can see if improvements have really occurred instead of taking the word on the subject.

So according the results of these tests, subjects did have improvements in their vision and hearing after receiving PIP. Three subjects had their tested vision improve from 20/400 or worse to 20/80 or better. Two subjects with impaired hearing reduced the threshold at which they could detect sound by 50 decibels.

Professor Brown recounted that one subject, a woman named Maryam, could not see a person’s hand that was only one foot away. A healer put her hand on Maryam’s eyes, and prayed for less than a minute. After the prayer the person held five fingers in front of Maryam, who was able to count them and even read the 20/125 line on a vision chart.

Professor Brown said that this study will be published in the September issue of the Southern Medical Journal.

These results may sound promising, but many scientists disagree. Terry Sanderson, President of National Secular Society (NSS) said “This study, as it describes itself, is unscientific and therefore of no worth beyond its use as religious propaganda. It exploits the desperation of people living in extreme poverty who are unable to access proper medical care in order to bring them under the influence of these Pentecostal churches.”

Neurologist Dr. Steven Novella (personal hero of mine) had some doubts about this study as well. On his blog NeuroLogica he brought up the fact that “these tests had no blinding or control group.”  He explains that “everyone in the study, subjects and experimenters, knew that every subject was getting the treatment.” Dr. Novella goes on to state that “the protocol also calls for multiple interventions if initial treatments are not effective – essentially the subjects receive repeat treatments as long as possible until they report a response.”

Just like Terry Sanderson, Dr. Novella makes a similar statement in his blog- “At this point anyone with any reasonable familiarity with how to assess the quality of medical studies should see that this is a worthless study. This barely qualifies as a pilot study. It really doesn’t matter what the treatment is or how plausible it is – you simply cannot draw any meaningful conclusion from 24 self-selected subjects with no controls and no blinding.”
Dr. Novella writes that vision and hearing is subjective even if proper medical tests are administered and that it is essential to get subjective feedback from the subjects. The problem this test poses is that it allows subjects to exaggerate their limitations before treatment and try hard to perform better after the intervention.

The consensus seems to be the same in most of the medical reviews I have read on this subject matter. Personally I think this study is irresponsible. What it is showing is that it alright to rely on prayer as opposed to medical treatment, which is dangerous and negligent. It has nothing to do with personal belief in a deity, it’s just foolish.

References:
http://www.thaindian.com/newsportal/health/proximity-could-be-key-to-success-of-healing-prayer_100407893.html
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1300506/Prayers-really-heal-sick-finds-international-study.html
http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=2188

Has St. John the Baptist Really Been Found?

Today, when I got to work, I immediately began my normal routine. No, I wasn’t actually working, I was checking news websites, blogs and other such odd internet locations. During this search, I saw an interesting title on BBC News which read “Remains of St. John the Bapist Found.” I was disappointed to find that the article was ridiculously short and somewhat misleading, saying not much more than “Bone fragments of St. John the Baptist appear to have been found on Sveti Ivan Island near Bulgaria’s southern black sea.” Check it out here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10849211.

Essentially, archaeologists have found the reminas of iconic Christian figure, and while they were waiting on a few more tests to be completed, they decided to go public with their best guess as to who this person was. I decided to go on my own dig of sorts, through the internet, to see what I could find.

First, I wanted to know what exactly was found. From what I could research, late last month a reliquary (a container that holds ‘holy relics’) made of alabaster was discovered on an island in the Black Sea named Sveti Ivan (which translates into ‘St. John’ in Bulgarian apparently). It just so happens that in the 11th century a monastery was built and dedicated to St. John. Inside this container were some skull fragments, a tooth, and some
phalanges (bones from a human hand). According to Kazimir Popkonstantinov, the lead archeologist, exacavator and the one who lifted the lid of the reliquary, this container dates back to about the middle of the 5th century.

My next question was why is this discovery so significant and how can it be linked to St. John the Bapist? The date ‘June 24th’ was found carved in Greek on the alabaster reliquary. This is the day some Christians celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, also know as the ‘Fest of John the Baptist.” Like I mentioned before, further tests are to be carried out on the fragments. Even without the test results complete, the discovery has been enough to convince Popkonstantinov that these are indeed the remains of the iconic Christian figure.

I must admit it would be pretty cool if these fragments do date back to the time of Christ, but as usual I am a bit skeptical. The date found on the reliquary, June 24th, isn’t enough evidence to convince me outright. It is possible that this could be a fraud. Sadly, frauds aren’t that uncommon with religious artifacts, even during this time period. Some pieces of fraudulent Christian relics include a multitude of crowns made of thorn, pieces of the ‘true’ cross, multiple Shrouds of Turin, the nails that held Christ to the cross during his crucifixtion and many Holy Grails, one of which dates back to the 4th century. Even St. John has been ‘hoaxed’ before, with 2 heads that held the claim to be his. In all, a simple date isn’t enough to persuade me that this recent discovery is indeed authentic. If the pieces are carbon dated back to the time of Christ, could anyone even possibly be able to identify them as belonging to St. John?  Or will it have to be taken on as an act of faith?

References:
http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/08/03/remains-of-john-the-baptist-found-in-bulgaria/?hpt=C1
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10849211

Toss Out The Q-Tips, Bring In The Ear Candles

Anyone who has ever held a job knows that people in the workplace often engage in conversations completely unrelated to work. Recently, a woman in the customer service department at my job has been praising a form of alternative medicine called thermal-auricular therapy also know as ear candling. After overhearing a couple of women talking about how amazing ear candling was, I couldn’t help but involve myself in the discussion.
 
Although I don’t remember what was said word for word, I was basically told that using cotton swabs, or Q-Tips, to clean my ears was not only ineffective at removing the ear wax but it was also very dangerous. Instead I should be using ear candles. Intrigued by this claim, I asked how they worked. Sadly none of the women knew the science behind this technique. They proceeded to tell me how great their ears felt after using them and that the best part was cutting open the base at the end to reveal just how much ear wax was removed from the ear.
 
Instantly something went off in my brain telling me that this was crap but still I asked where I could purchase some of these “amazing” candles. I figured I was going to have to order them online, but I was surprised to find out that they are readily available my local all natural store Bassett’s Health Foods. After work I picked up a tape recorder and went to purchase some ear candles. As soon as I walked in I noticed the candles behind the cash register and quickly got in line to purchase them. In front of me there were 3 individuals standing in line and I was absolutely shocked to watch each person buy 6 candles a piece. “Is this really that popular?” I thought to myself.
 
Just before going up to the counter I turned on my audio recorder and started to play dumb. Below is the actual conversation I had with the two women behind the counter
.
Me: Hi. Some people at my work told me I shouldn’t use Q-Tips but I should
(I was quickly cut off)
Girl 1: Ear candles!
Me: Yes, ear candles. I was just wondering how do they work?
Girl 1: Um (she grabbed one of the candles) you light this end of it (pointing to the top of the candle) and stick this part into your ear canal (the bottom part of the candle) and what happens is it forms a vacuum sucking all the ear wax out of your ear.
Me: So that’s all there is to it?
Girl 1: Basically, I can give you an instruction sheet as well.
Me: Thank you, I will take a couple of those (talking about the ear candles).
Girl 2: Your supposed to use 2 to 3 per ear.
Me: Really? Why?
Girl 2: Because the first one is what we call a starter, but the second and third one are what really cleans the ear.
Me: Alrighty, I will try 4 for now.
Girl 2: It feels amazing.
Girl 1: I know, it really does, I am going to do mine tonight.
Girl 2: You’re really going to love it (talking to me).
Girl 1: Yea, Q-Tips usually push the ear wax back into your ear, so you really shouldn’t use them.
Me: Really? So basically this is just going to form a vacuum and suck the ear wax out instead?
Girl 2: Exactly, but if you have any other questions just ‘YouTube’ ear candling.
Me: Thank you, I will.
Girl 2: Like I said you are going to love it. I didn’t think it would work until I tried it myself and it feels great. When you are done you can open up the candles and look at all the wax it sucked out of your ear. Its really gross.
Me. Yea, that sounds gross. Well thank you again.
Girl 1: Have a nice day.
Me: You too.
 

I thought it was fascinating and very informational that the clerks told me to ’YouTube’ instead of providing me with helpful information. Nonetheless, I went home to try a simple experiment. What I planned on doing was use 2 candles in one ear and set up a box where I could stand up the candles in a similar way as to how they are place in the ear. I wanted to see if these candles really sucked the ear wax out of your ear, or if this nasty orange residue people are seeing can be produced if the candle is not in your ear.
 
So I lit the top of the first candle and laid on the couch sticking the bottom into my ear canal. Immediately my ear was filled with the noise of crackling and popping, similar to listening to a bowl of Rice Krispies. I could feel the heat inside of my ear, and the only thought I kept thinking was “Q-Tips are dangerous? I have a lit candle in my ear.”


 
One thing I didn’t know was that it takes a fairly long time for each candle to burn. It took about 8 to 10 minutes for the candle to reach the point to where it should be extinguished. Though that may not sound like a long time, I promise you, laying there holding one of these candles and hoping to God you don’t accidentally burn your house down in the process seems like an eternity. After the first candle was finished I started the same process for candle number two.


 
After the relief of finishing my ear candling and not burning down my house, I continued to the second part of my experiment. I took a cereal box which I poked two holes into, and carefully set up the remaining 2 candles and lit both at the same time (might as well get both done at once).

When they were finished I carefully extinguished them and placed each set on 2 different napkins and carefully opened them. I wanted to see if the set I used on my ear pulled out ear wax and the second set was clean or if both sets would produce the same results. I opened up the set I used on my ears first, to my amazement I saw the nasty yellow orange residue everyone was talking about. It looked just like ear wax. I moved onto the set that were place in the holes on the cereal box and just as I thought, the same exact results.

This one was used in the ear

This one was used in the ear

These were done in the box

These were done in the box

So unless the cereal boxed produced ear wax, I think its safe to say that this yellow/orange substance is in fact the wax of the candle itself.

After researching a little bit on ear candles I found out that they are said to cure many ailments. These ailments include cleansing the ear of wax, relieving sinus infections, strengthening the brain to stabilizing emotions, aligning your chakras and healing your auras. I also found out in my research that ear candles are actually very dangerous. The major threat associated with using ear candles is the possibility of burning yourself. There is also the possibility that hot wax from the candle may also drip down into ones ear causing obstructions in the canal. Another dangerous and potential irreversible side effect is the perforation of ones eardrum. There has even a reported death by someone using ear candles. A report of a 59 year old woman accidentally ignited her bedding after dropping the ear candle. Although she didn’t die in the house, she did die later at the hospital. Very sad and unfortunate.
 
Besides the dangers of using ear candles, research shows that it is not even possible for the candles to suck the wax out of your ear. The amount of force the candles would have to use to suck out the wax of ones ear would actually cause the ear drum to rupture. These candles don’t even produce any type of vacuum. Furthermore, researchers found that these candles do not remove wax, but actually deposit wax into the ear instead.
 
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) strongly advises against the use of ear candles because there is no scientific evidence to support any health benefits, even by following the directions. The FDA is also very concerned because some ear candle manufacturers are suggesting the use of this treatment in children and infants. This is extremely dangerous because the ear canals are smaller and children and infants are more likely to move during the procedure.
 
This is very valuable information. I now feel obligated to pass on this knowledge to people who may not know about the dangers associated with ear candles. What started out as just a way to find out if these candles are bunk or not turned into something much more. I hope this finds many readers and opens the eyes of those who use these candles and/or are thinking about using them. They are seriously very dangerous and should not be used under any circumstances.
 
References:
http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/candling.html
http://newyorkcity.injuryboard.com/fda-and-prescription-drugs/ear-candles-and-candling-are-a-dangerous-health-scam-says-fda.aspx?googleid=278518

Is Being Psychic a Mental Disorder?

On Strange Frequencies Radio last Sunday we interviewed self proclaimed “medium” Heathyr Hoffman. Heathyr was a cast member on the first season of Syfy’s original Ghost Hunters Academy, a show in which individuals compete to have a spot on either Ghost Hunters or Ghost Hunters International. Ms. Hoffman is without a doubt very intelligent and beyond respectful. She holds a Masters degree in counseling and works is an advocate in ending domestic violence.

During the show which aired Sunday July 18th 2010, and can be found in the archives on http://www.StrangeFrequenciesRadio.com, Heathyr, Jason and I got into a conversation about psychology. It had to do with whether or not if Heathyr explained her “gift” to a psychiatrist, would she be diagnosable with a possible mental disorder. Heathyr said first of all she doesn’t bring her psychic abilities to work with her, but if she were to get an evaluation and discuss herself being a “medium” no diagnosis would be made based on that ability alone. She went on to further explain that there would have to be some underlining problem or cause of stress that was somehow preventing her from living her day to day life. I made the argument totally against this notion. My thought was if you were to go to a psychiatrist and tell them you were seeing spirits in a physical sense (in other words seeing people who are not there or in existence) and hearing them audibly (again hearing people talk to you or able to have a conversation with someone who isn’t present or even in existence), you would for sure be diagnosable.

Now I will be the first admit, I have no background what so ever in psychology, nor do I pretend that I do. So what I announced on the show is that I would consult with a psychologist, a therapist and a neurologist to see if the abilities that mediums claim to possess could indeed be diagnosed as some type of mental disorder. I was pretty confident in my thought process; let’s see what the professionals had to say.

First is a Psychiatrist who shall remain nameless.

“Bobby: the best advice to this question is the one that supports the facts. According to the dsm-iv, the book we all use to diagnose mental disorders, criteria needs to be met to be able to give a diagnosis. First, severity and course specifiers…a clinician takes into account the number and intensity of the signs and symptoms of a disorder and any resulting impairment in occupational or social functioning, typically mild, moderate, severe. Second, a recurrence of signs/symptoms. Third, reason for visit, are signs/symptoms creating a problem? So while the therapist may be producing signs/symptoms of a disorder, are they enough to cause impairment in her life? Would she need treatment for the disorder, if in fact a disorder existed. From what you are telling me, she is not complaining about the problem and it is not negatively affecting her work or social life so I would have to answer, in my opinion, “no”, she does not have a disorder. Feel free to respond. Take care.”

Second is an answer from a personal hero of mine, neurologist Dr. Steven Novella, host of The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, check it out by going to http://www.theskepticsguide.org.

“Robert,

It depends. In the DSM – the diagnostic manual for mental disorders – belief systems that are part of religious or cultural beliefs do not count toward the diagnosis of psychosis or mental illness. The thinking here is that if someone absorbs a belief from the culture, that is not necessarily a symptoms of mental illness.

This gets tricky, however, as those with schizophrenia or a delusional disorder will often incorporate common cultural beliefs into their delusions – but these have to go beyond the typical beliefs of the culture.

So it would depend on the details. Most people who think they have seen ghosts, or been abducted by aliens, or have psychic power, or speak with spirits are not mentally ill. They just have religious type beliefs.

Hope this is helpful,

Steve”

And third is a correspondence from a psychologist.

“To: Bobby Nelson

Always difficult to answer a hypothetical question, but I don’t hear anything intrinsic to her statements regarding her spiritual beliefs per se that automatically warrants a medical diagnosis.

“Hearing voices” a complex and still poorly understood phenomenon that is clearly related to cultural and spiritual issues as well as biological and mental health issues. If you are interested in reading more, here is a place that you might start.

Wesley A. Bullock, Ph.D.”

So by the looks of it I was wrong and Heathyr was right. From what I can gather in the world of psychology most would consider people who claim to be psychic or possess mediumistic powers would be classified into a belief/religious category, which by itself cannot be diagnosed as a mental illness. Like Ms. Hoffman said it would only be diagnosable when it would interfere and or disable someone from living the normalcy of everyday life. Interesting topic, and I learned some fun stuff.

The Problem With E.V.P.

Recently I was engaged in an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine on what could be considered proof of paranormal phenomena. My answer to this question is always very simple but it tends to piss off ghost hunters or paranormal investigators. So I told this friend of mine “there is no such thing as paranormal or supernatural, there is only the normal and natural.” Instantly my friend jumped in and said “that’s your opinion.“ I asked him “what would he consider proof?” Almost instantaneously he responded with “E.V.P.”

For those who may not know what E.V.P. is, it is an acronym for electronic voice phenomena. It is a technique ghost hunters and paranormal enthusiasts use to capture anomalous voices which are said to be that of the dead. Paranormal investigators will walk around alleged haunted locations with a recorder (digital or analog) and ask questions such as “is anyone here?” or “is there a message you want to tell me?” The investigator will wait about 10-20 seconds in between each question in hopes they will capture some sort of response. Now the responses are not audible by the human ear, but can be heard upon play back of the audio recording. Usually when a “voice” is found, it will be isolated and enhanced by some type of audio program and then presented as evidence of the paranormal.

Now I think it is important to know I am not someone who just finds a reason to criticize these things or have no idea how they work. I too at one point thought E.V.P. would be the thing that somehow proved the existence of ghosts or life after death. I mean the thought is quite romantic, asking a question to a loved one who has passed away and possibly receiving an answer. I have attended hundreds of paranormal investigations and have participated in many E.V.P. ‘sessions.’ I was convinced for years I had made contact with the other side and never thought I could be convinced otherwise. I used to actually think “how can scientist and skeptics not consider this phenomena authentic evidence of the paranormal?” So I whole heartedly understand where my friend and other individuals are coming from when they think these voices are authentic.

Culprit one and the most common which is quickly dismissed by most investigators is audio pareidolia. Pareidolia is a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct. It is why people see faces of Jesus Christ on burnt toast, the Virgin Mary on wood grain or Abraham Lincoln in the clouds. The same thing can happen with audio. Any indistinct sound or noise the brain can’t identify can be interpreted falsely. For some reason this hits a nerve with paranormal investigators, for many will claim it is a possibility, but of course never with their own evidence. Usually when you ask the investigator about the authenticity of the E.V.P. one of the first things they will say is “I know some of you might think this is nothing more than audio matrixing (a term improperly used instead of pareidolia) but the voice is clear and no one was around or talking when the recorder was running.” Most of the time the voice isn’t clear, it is usually something quick and very low in volume. Which brings me to my next possible culprit; audio enhanced white noise.

Another thing many investigators don’t know is that their recorders produce something called white noise or noise floor. In an article on CSICOP website psychologist James Alcock states that perception is a very complex process in which the brain is trying to find a pattern, and when doing this we prompt our brain by what we expect to hear. It can be demonstrated that people can clearly hear and make out voices in a pattern of white noise, a pattern where there are actually no voices present at all. And the fact that we can routinely demonstrate this effect, it is only parsimonious to suggest that E.V.P. is a product of their own brain, and their expectations, rather than the voices of the dead.

So just imagine if you think you are hearing something and you start to enhance that audio, you are in effect trying to distort the audio into something that relates to what you want or think you are hearing. So what if the individual is really hearing a voice? Still that doesn’t mean the individual has picked up an authentic spirit talking from beyond.

I am going to quickly share a story about when I used to own a recording studio. With top of line recording equipment, it was still possible and pretty common to pick up C.B. Radio signals from semi trucks driving up and down the road. This is called cross modulation. Now if it was that easy to pick up these signals on high tech recording equipment, believe it is just as easy to pick them up on handheld recording devices. It is not just C.B. Radio signals. Cross modulation can occur with VCR’s, cell phones, cordless phones, AM/FM radio, walkie talkies, baby monitors and so on. This could explain why some many E.V.P. seem out of context.

There are many more reasons why a voice may be imprinted on a recorder or cassette tape. For instance, the possibility of old recordings not erasing all the way, leaving faint voices behind that were previously recorded. Believe it or not, this can also occur in the digital world.

So back to my conversation with my friend. He stated that the voice he obtained came from a place where no one was present and his recorder was new. He also said no obscure noises were made at the time of the recording. He said he exhausted all the explanations I would give, thus making it paranormal. This is the thing that fascinates me about the human brain, how individuals can make this jump from normal and rational to paranormal and irrational. My friend proceeded to tell me he knows a voice when he hears one and I don’t doubt that, but I also know how easily the brain is fooled. How something as simple as a book bag being zipped up can be translated as a ghost voice saying Del Rio (true story) or how someone coughing can be misconstrued as a woman screaming (again another true story). So just because my friend knows a voice when he hears one, doesn’t mean he cant misinterpret a noise as a voice.

The argument that because he didn’t know what it could be, so it must be paranormal is a logical fallacy called the argument from ignorance. Now, just to be clear, I am not calling my friend ignorant, but by saying because I don’t know what it is, so it must be paranormal simply doesn’t work. In science there is something called Occam’s razor, a concept that states if there are two or more explanations that lead to the same outcome, the one that provided the easiest explanation is usually the correct one. So following this logic and knowing there are logical and natural explanations for E.V.P. what makes most sense? That it was probably a product of something natural or the voice of the dead? One last point, the fact that other explanations can be given for how “E.V.P.” can be obtained (non ghost/paranormal related), should make this technique null and void.

References:

http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/electronic_voice_phenomena_voices_of_the_dead/