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Yet another cancer hoaxer unmasked. Jonathan Jay White claimed to be a 15-year-old from Idaho suffering from Anaplastic Astrocytoma (a kind of brain cancer). He gained a lot of supporters online, including Lance Armstrong, who sent him a number of gifts. But it now appears that Jonathan Jay White never existed. Details at and
Categories: Health/Medicine, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 22, 2009
Comments (1)
ABC News has a report on the village of Bama, "China's Fountain of youth." People there are said to live unusually long lives. Out of the population of 500, six people are over 100 years old.

The locals attribute this longevity to pure water (which is "a striking blue because of low alkilinity"), simple home-grown food, and a special magnetic field.

Bama has become a big tourist destination in China. Billboards promote its special powers. New hotels are being constructed there. And you can shop at a store that sells products labeled "The 100-year-old Man."

But the key phrase in the report is that "there are no birth certificates to prove age." This immediately makes me think of the Ecuadorian town of Vilcabamba, which in the 1970s was heavily promoted as a village of supercentenarians, until researchers examined the age claims more closely and realized the locals were exaggerating their age.

If the old folks in Bama don't have any birth certificates or documentation to prove their age, then I'd be very doubtful they really are over 100, because age exaggeration among old people is an extremely common phenomenon. It's a way for them to increase their social status by claiming to have done something remarkable (lived a very long time).
Categories: Death, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 15, 2009
Comments (9)
In the forum Captain Al linked to a recent Newsweek article that's well worth reading. It details how Oprah Winfrey has routinely promoted dubious medical/pseudoscientific nonsense on her show. It appears that the only standard of evidence important to her is whether a claim is emotionally appealing. If a claim passes that test, then it must be true!

Some of the nonsense promoted on her show includes:
  • Suzanne Somers' vitamin/hormone cure for aging.
  • Jenny McCarthy's crusade to pin the blame for autism on vaccines.
  • Dr. Christiane Northrup's theory that thyroid dysfunction is caused by repressing your emotions.
  • Radio-wave skin tightening treatments.
  • And "The Secret", that by "thinking positively" you can attract success and good health to yourself.
The article doesn't even get into her relentless promotion of psychic scammers.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Jun 01, 2009
Comments (29)
A man has been arrested in Spain for posing as a fake doctor. He was performing breast and buttock augmentations in his home, which was reported to be filthy (full of numerous pets). Plus, he was using veterinary tools to inject liquid silicone. The reason real surgeons haven't used liquid silicone since the 1960s is because it can cause discoloration, open sores, and gangrene. []
Categories: Health/Medicine, Identity/Imposters
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 17, 2009
Comments (11)
Dallas, Texas is home to the latest case of Munchausen Syndrome. Hope Ybarra managed to raise $100,000 by convincing an entire community that she was dying of cancer. She even fooled her family. Apparently the ruse went on for years. To their credit, once her family found out she wasn't really sick they put an end to the entire thing and are offering to return everyone's money. [Yahoo! Video]
Categories: Health/Medicine, Scams
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 15, 2009
Comments (15)
The latest victims of the decades-old trash-for-charity hoax are the students of PS 46 in Staten Island. They were collecting plastic bottle caps in the belief that for every 1000 caps collected a child with cancer would get chemotherapy. Finally one of the students did an online search for "bottle caps" and "charity" and figured out it was a hoax. []
Categories: Health/Medicine, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 13, 2009
Comments (7)
A Chinese doctor hasn't cut his hair in more than 60 years. He says doing so is responsible for the health of his patients. I'm sure there's a name for this logical fallacy, but I'm not sure what it is. [Daily Express (with pic of long-haired doc)]
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Apr 06, 2009
Comments (5)
If you do a search on the web for information about rhinotillexis (aka nose picking) you'll soon run across references to Dr. Friedrich Bischinger, described as an Austrian lung specialist, who is quoted as saying that nose-picking combined with nasal mucus eating is a healthy habit:

"With the finger you can get to places you just can't reach with a handkerchief, keeping your nose far cleaner.
"And eating the dry remains of what you pull out is a great way of strengthening the body's immune system.
"Medically it makes great sense and is a perfectly natural thing to do. In terms of the immune system the nose is a filter in which a great deal of bacteria are collected, and when this mixture arrives in the intestines it works just like a medicine.
"Modern medicine is constantly trying to do the same thing through far more complicated methods, people who pick their nose and eat it get a natural boost to their immune system for free."

Bischinger is referenced in the Wikipedia article about nose-picking as well as in a Damn Interesting article on the same subject.

The problem is that this quotation from Dr. Bischinger doesn't come from a medical journal article. Instead, it traces back to an Ananova article (never a good sign), and before that to a news wire article that did the rounds in March 2004.

I had to wonder, does Dr. Bischinger even exist, or was he the creation of a bored journalist?

Well, he does exist. I couldn't find any medical articles authored by him, but after some searching I did find his contact details listed at the arztverzeichnis website. He is an Austrian lung specialist. Based on a posting on the Improbable Research site, it looks like Bischinger was first interviewed by a German-language magazine, Tirol, and then the quotation was noticed and circulated by a news wire reporter.

To conclude: I don't know if nose-picking and booger-eating is good for you. All we can say is that in the opinion of one Austrian doctor it is healthy. However, Dr. Bischinger doesn't appear to have conducted an actual medical study of the habit.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Fri Dec 05, 2008
Comments (7)
When the Obamas recently announced they were searching for a dog to have in the White House, they noted that one of the criteria was that it would need to be hypoallergenic, since Malia is allergic to dogs. The media quickly raised the possibility of a White House poodle, since poodles are supposedly a hypoallergenic breed.

Skeptics have quickly pointed out that the idea of a hypoallergenic dog breed is a myth. Individuals dogs may produce less of the protein that causes the allergic reaction (and this protein can be found in the dander, urine, saliva, and fur of dogs). However, there is no dog breed as a whole that produces less of the protein. And if someone is very allergic to dogs, they're going to react to all dogs.

So, assuming that Malia's allergies are relatively mild and manageable, instead of focusing on certain breeds, the Obamas should test individual dogs for their compatibility with Malia. However, it is true they should avoid long-haired dogs because such dogs trap more allergens in their fur, in the same way that a shag carpet traps more allergens than a hardwood floor.

Links: Yahoo! News video, How Stuff Works. (Thanks, Big Gary!)
Categories: Animals, Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Mon Nov 17, 2008
Comments (9)
Chinese food inspectors have issued a warning to those planning to buy caterpillar fungus: Many samples of caterpillar fungus have been replaced by fakes. These fakes "not only miss their medicinal function, but could even be poisonous."

According to Wikipedia, caterpillar fungus is one of the most prized ingredients in traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine:

it is used as an aphrodisiac and as a treatment for a variety of ailments from fatigue to cancer. It is regarded as having an excellent balance of yin and yang as it is apparently both animal and vegetable (though it is in actuality not vegetable, but fungal).

So my guess is that the "real" stuff does basically nothing.
Categories: Health/Medicine
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 24, 2008
Comments (1)
Another case of the Collecting Junk for Charity hoax. Aleta Brace of Parkersburg, West Virginia collected 20,000 bottle caps, believing that the caps could be redeemed for money which would aid cancer patients. And she wasn't alone. Churches, schools, businesses, and individuals throughout West Virginia have been collecting the bottle caps all summer.

The caps would all have gone to waste, but now the Aveda skin care company has announced it'll take the caps and recycle them into new caps for its products.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Scams, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 03, 2008
Comments (7)
The Associated Press reports that the FBI has started cracking down on a widespread insurance scam in which hospitals fill up their beds with homeless people posing as patients, and then charge government programs for the costs.

Hospitals in Los Angeles and Orange counties submitted phony Medicare and Medi-Cal bills for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeless patients — including drug addicts and the mentally ill — recruited from downtown's Skid Row, state and federal authorities allege.
While treating minor problems that did not require hospitalization, such as dehydration, exhaustion or yeast infections, the hospitals allegedly kept homeless patients in beds for as long as three days and charged the government for the stays.

Put that together with this report from Jan 2008 which described how hospitals frequently employ fake patients in order to spy on doctors and check out whether they're doing what they should be. The problem is that sometimes the real patients in the emergency room are stuck in line behind the fake patients.

And let's not forget the 2006 case of the Norwegian doctor who invented case studies of 900 fake patients to pad out his study of whether aspirin could reduce the risk of oral cancer.

The conclusion: Fake patients are obviously an important, under-appreciated part of the modern health-care industry. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Health/Medicine, Scams
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 08, 2008
Comments (2)
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