Category Archives: Pseudoscience

Controversies in Autism Spectrum Disorder

The skepdick got to write a paper in Psych class about controversies in autism.  I suppose I could have been harsher on the anti-vax people, but so be it.  Enjoy.

    Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a range of neurodevelopmental disorders characterized by five separate diagnostic criteria. The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) lists those criteria as:

  1. Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction.

  2. Repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities.

  3. Symptoms must be present in early childhood.

  4. Symptoms must cause clinically significant social impairment.

  5. Symptoms are not better explained by intellectual disability or global developmental delay. (DSM-5., 2013, pp. 50-51)

     As a spectrum, symptoms are further categorized into three levels of severity. With level 1 ASD the individual “requires support”, level 2 “requires substantial support”, and level 3 the individual requires “very substantial support” (DSM-5., 2013, p. 52).

     Autism was first described in 1943 by child psychiatrist Leo Kanner, who identified an unusual pattern of symptoms in children, one of which was the child’s desire to be alone, thus naming the condition, autism, after the Greek work for self (Grandin, 2013, p. 5). Some of the criteria Kanner developed is similar to the DSM-5 criteria we use today, but it took quite a few years before we understood even the basics of autism and there were many controversies along the way.

Continue reading

9,078 total views, 4 views today

Psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience. (A quick review of Freud’s theory)

The skepdick is taking a class in psychology this summer and had some thoughts to share about this guy:

Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis was derived in Victorian era Europe, a time of great sexual repression where even top minds had only superficial awareness of how biological processes control the brain and how brain functions control behavior and personality. Freud is known as the “father of modern psychiatry” (Biography, 1997, 0:05) and, like many other “fathers” or “mothers” of things, he had good intentions towards his patients and his field, but although his research led psychiatry in a new direction, it ultimately led Freud down a path where there was no escaping the facts that his theories were dead-ends based on false premises and his conclusions were based on observations rather than any legitimate evidence. Psychoanalysis is labeled a “science” many times in the video, as well as, by the Vienna press upon his escape to London from the Nazis in 1938, a “pornographic Jewish specialty” (Biography, 39:49). One wonders if the irony of this was not lost on Freud since he himself was worried 38 years prior that his new form of analysis would be “dismissed as a Jewish science” (Biography, 25:30). Today, few medical professionals would call psychoanalysis anything but a fringe pseudoscience.
To Freud’s credit, his attitudes towards mental illness were revolutionary and I’m impressed that he was savvy enough to dismiss the usual fringe cures of the time such as magnets, spas, and hydrotherapy as useless (Biography, 13:30). Isn’t it strange how these fringe cures are still around today? Sadly, during his 1895 trip to Paris, in an effort to learn more about how physical deformities or brain lesions may cause mental illness, he became convinced that “diseases are caused by ideas” (Biography, 11:25), certainly not how we define disease. Freud believed that all neuroses are formed as the ego (conscious mind) tries and fails to suppress urges coming from the id (unconscious mind); a fistfight if you will between different parts of our mind. Delineating the mind in such a way was a failure on his part, again, not really his fault since the biology wasn’t advanced enough for him to know better.
Freud’s observations were of a very narrow group of wealthy Jewish people, mostly women, biasing his research as much as did his culture. His theories on dream interpretation and free association have little scientific support and were not subjected to any experimental research at the time. He was also subject to a huge confirmation bias whereby he was able to find what he was looking for every time he had a session with a patient (it was always about sex, even if the patient thought otherwise). Why then do we celebrate this man who claimed to know much about sex and sexual desires, but who rarely had sex (he was convinced the “pull-out” method of birth control made men neurotic) (Biography, 17:08), who believed a baby’s primal sucking instinct was really all about sex (especially if it were a boy, then it was about sex with his mother), and who was unable to control his own desire to smoke 25 cigars a day despite his numerous bouts with cancer (and no, he didn’t really say, “a cigar is just a cigar”)?
The reason is because of his greatest contribution towards modern psychology, his“talking treatment” (Biography, 14:10). Freud likely found success with this type of therapy, not because people were learning about their supposedly repressed sexual urges or assigning meaning to random bits of data rumbling about in their heads in the form of dreams, rather because talking about your problems is simply the best form of therapy. It’s the talking that’s therapeutic and all the psychoanalysis that Freud believed he was doing in addition to talking was just a bunch of nonsense that actually got in the way of the true therapy. His falling out with his friend Carl Jung after which Freud “demanded absolute loyalty” to his ideas of psychoanalysis (Biography, 28:40) is evidence that he had fallen prey to the sunk cost fallacy at which time he was too far down the path to realize it was the wrong one.
Even though he was wrong about why people exhibit certain behavior, his methods raised awareness about mental illness in a time when mentally ill people were still being subjected to medieval levels of torture, so for that at least we should celebrate him. (1997). Sigmund Freud. [Video File]. Retrieved Jun 18, 2014, from

18,325 total views, 2 views today

Hey baby, what’s your sign? I’ll bet it’s not what you think it is.

The skepdick spotted a tattoo on the back of a friend’s neck at Thanksgiving dinner last month and after a polite inquiry, she told me it was the symbol of her zodiac sign.  In poor skeptical form I blurted out that everybody’s zodiac sign is wrong because the Earth has moved or something like that, but immediately qualified it by saying I wasn’t really sure and acknowledged I should probably do some research before telling people their tattoos were meaningless.  Are they?  Are the signs we think we’re born under not really the signs we’re born under (and for that matter, are tattoos of our signs really meaningless)?   How would the zodiac move?  And how did the zodiac originate?  And more importantly, can the stars really have any influence on our lives?  Grab your newspaper and check your horoscope, let’s see if there’s something to astrology or if it’s just the practice of ancient magic masquerading as science (okay, that may be a bit unfair, but I know how this article ends).


Sometimes the horoscope is right

Continue reading

61,911 total views, no views today

“I don’t feel very much like Pooh today,” said Pooh. “There there,” said Piglet. “I’ll bring you tea and honey until you do.” ? A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The skepdick was watching Dr. Oz last week at the gym ( A – the treadmill only gets a few channels and B – sometimes you have to watch shows that mostly spout bullshit in order to identify and correct said bullshit) and what do you suppose he was pushing on the poor unsuspecting audience this time?


If nothing else, hunny is delicious

You guessed it, a show all about poo.  No, wait, it was about honey.  Damn.  Dr. Oz made five claims about the benefits of honey, all five of which I was skeptical as usual (no, I don’t think Dr. Oz works for Big Honey (although that does actually exist and probably paid for some of the studies we discuss below (okay, maybe not, I have no proof))).  Let’s take these claims in order and see if he’s pushing his usual bullshit folk “wisdom” or if honey does indeed do what the good ol doctor says it can do.



Continue reading

45,528 total views, 5 views today

Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You? No really, where the hell are you?

The skepdick used to wake up at the crack of dawn every Saturday when he was a kid, head into the family room, and sit down in front of the television with a bowl of sugar and Rice Krispies for a marathon session of cartoons.  Some of my favorites were SpiderMan and his Amazing Friends, Danger Mouse, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, Transformers, He-Man, and The Super Friends Hour.  The phrase, “Meanwhile, at the Legion of Doom…”  still gives me shivers.

legion of doom

Dude, cool houseboat.

But my favorite cartoon was always Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (at least until it jumped the shark with that pissant Scrappy-Doo).  Yeah the show was corny and it had an annoying laugh track (watch any show with a laugh track, listen for the fake laughs, and try not to be annoyed), but it was a lot of fun for a kid.  Monsters, funny voices, spooky locations, and every episode it felt like I got to solve the mystery along with the gang.  Looking back at the show now with my skeptical sunglasses I’m beginning to see some other reasons why it was so ground-breaking and fantastic.  Grab a scooby snack and take a seat on the couch, let’s see why Scooby-Doo was the first, best, and pretty much only subversively skeptical television show ever made.

Continue reading

25,514 total views, no views today

Holy Basil, Batman!

The skepdick is in an ongoing discussion with a friend about the safety of fluoride in our drinking water.  Perhaps one day she’ll come around and be convinced by the real evidence, but that hasn’t happened yet, despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listing water fluoridation as one of the ten great public health achievements of the 20th century.  The World Health Organization sets an upper limit on fluoride in drinking water at 1 mg/L (mg/L equals ppm) and recommends an appropriate concentration of 0.5 mg/L which is the level of fluoridation in most of the government supplied drinking water in the United States.  Despite the fact that water fluoridation has been proven to reduce caries (the infection that causes dental cavities) by up to 40%, she believes any level of fluoride is dangerous.  She believes we should eliminate fluoride altogether from our drinking water, a belief I do not share.  What we do agree on is that fluoride can be very dangerous in high doses.

Last week she sent me a link to a news article about a new way to remove fluoride from water.  The strength-to-awaken blog reports that holy basil leaves contain special properties.  Let’s take a look and see if this herb is as powerful as this pseudoscientific website claims (by the way, if you feel sensitive to the planetary movements of the galaxy this is the site for you).

Continue reading

36,325 total views, 12 views today

I cannot tell a lie.

The skepdick was made aware that you can now go to jail for teaching people how to beat a lie detector test.  Yup.  But is that really why Chad Dixon is serving time?  Or is Pinocchio’s nose the only real lie detector we should rely on?

Let’s see if our version of a lie detector test works as well as his famous nose and find out what the first amendment says about this sort of free speech…

Continue reading

62,939 total views, 3 views today