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Status: Scientific fraud
A Norwegian doctor, Jon Sudbo, who published an article in the Lancet last year suggesting that aspirin could reduce the risk of oral cancer, has been accused of making up the data in his study. Specifically, he invented almost all of the 900 patients in the study (or at least half of them, by other accounts). The director of the hospital where he worked said: "he faked everything: names, diagnosis, gender, weight, age, drug use." Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, said: "What I've been told is that he sat in front of his computer and made the whole dataset up and convinced his co-authors it was genuine... It's completely inexplicable." I guess that's one way to avoid having to get consent forms signed.

Other journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, are now finding evidence of fraud in articles they published by Sudbo.
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 23, 2006
Comments (2)
Status: Pseudoscience
Last night ABC News had a segment about a study being funded by the National Institutes of Health to determine if prayer can help cancer patients heal faster. Or more specifically, whether a stranger's prayers can help a patient heal faster. (The people running the study have invented the bs term 'distant healing' to make what they're studying sound more legitimate.) My jaw was on the floor as I was watching this. I couldn't believe the government had been suckered into paying for it. I suppose the NIH will next be funding studies of voodoo dolls. But unfortunately, ABC didn't spend a lot of time debunking the study. In fact, if you didn't know better, you might have got the impression from their segment that this was a perfectly scientific study, although they did give a critic a few seconds to make a quick point.

The woman running the study, Marilyn Schlitz, sounds like a real piece of work. She's head of something called the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Since she's a firm believer in the power of prayer, it's a good bet that her study will find that prayer does, indeed, have an effect. Never mind that a study conducted by Duke University has already determined that patients show no improvement in their condition when people pray for them. In an interview with, Schlitz desperately tries to duck this inconvenient fact, suggesting that "One study cannot prove or disprove a particular hypothesis." Oh, really? (Unless the study produces results she likes. Then, I'm sure, she would feel it was definitive.) Plus, in an effort to make what she's doing sound more secular, she suggests that she's not studying prayer, per se, but whether one person's "compassionate intention" towards another person, even if those two people are separated by thousands of miles and don't know each other, can have positive medical benefits. But it seems to me like we already have sufficient evidence to answer this. When celebrities (like George Harrison, for instance) are hospitalized, hundreds of thousands of people around the world pray for them. These prayers don't seem to do squat. Shouldn't that be proof enough that prayer has no therapeutic value?
Categories: Religion, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon Jan 09, 2006
Comments (30)
Status: Real
On December 7th, Matt Sparks went to get some bottled water out of his garage. The temperature in the garage was below the freezing point of water, but he noticed that the water in the bottles was still liquid. However, when he moved the water, it instantly froze. He has some videos on his site showing what happened. They're pretty cool, and if you're not aware of the phenomenon of supercooled water (as I wasn't), you might think there's some kind of trickery involved. But there's not. Matt writes:

These videos were recorded with a Canon Powershot S50 digital camera. They have not be altered in any way, other than to reencode them to xvid from mjpeg to reduce size. I assure you that the liquid you see in them is truly water with nothing added to it. It is straight from the bottle. The bottled water I happened to have was Nestle Pure Life Purified Water.

Some quick googling reveals that supercooling is a well-documented, though mysterious, behavior of water. What it means is that water, if it contains relatively few impurities, can be cooled to below its freezing point without crystallizing. But if you disturb the water, it instantly crystallizes. I'm tempted to try this experiment, but with the temperature outside in the 60s here in San Diego, I'll have to use my freezer.
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Dec 13, 2005
Comments (34)
In honor of the anniversary of the moon landing, has an article listing (and debunking) the top 10 Apollo Hoax Theories. Below are the top 10 points raised by those who believe the moon landing was a hoax. You'll have to read the article to get the explanation of why these points DON'T prove that the moon landing was a hoax.

#10. Fluttering Flag: The American flag appears to wave in the lunar wind.
#9. Glow-in-the-Dark Astronauts: If the astronauts had left the safety of the Van Allen Belt the radiation would have killed them.
#8. The Shadow Knows: Multiple-angle shadows in the Moon photos prove there was more than one source of light, like a large studio lamp.
#7. Fried Film: In the Sun, the Moon's temperature is toasty 280 degrees F. The film (among other things) would have melted.
#6. Liquid Water on the Moon: To leave a footprint requires moisture in the soil, doesn't it?
#5. Death by Meteor: Space is filled with super-fast micro meteors that would punch through the ship and kill the astronauts.
#4. No Crater at Landing Site: When the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) landed, its powerful engine didn't burrow a deep crater in the "dusty surface."
#3. Phantom Cameraman: How come in that one video of the LEM leaving the surface, the camera follows it up into the sky? Who was running that camera?
#2. Big Rover: There's no way that big moon buggy they were driving could have fit into that little landing module!
#1. Its Full of Stars!: Space is littered with little points of lights (stars). Why then are they missing from the photographs?
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 20, 2005
Comments (134)
image Stop The Presses! The Creationists have disproven evolution! How? Because they found a fishing reel in a rock.

The 'reel in a rock' seems to have been around for quite a while, but I've only heard of it now. What a treat I've been missing. Dan Jones says that he found this thing twenty-five years ago while trout fishing. It was lying right out in the open. It's a chunk of Phyllite rock with an old fishing reel embedded in it. It's pretty obvious that someone has drilled a few holes in order to insert the reel into the rock, but the Creationists are claiming that the rock itself must have formed around the reel. To their minds, this is the only solution. They then argue that since modern geological science says this would be impossible, that Geology must be wrong. And therefore evolution is wrong! It's all so logical. The fragile edifice of modern science brought down by a fishing reel in a rock.

You can find some debunking of the 'reel in a rock' over at the Creation versus Evolution site. A geologist, Ann Holmes, who had a chance to examine the rock says:

The phyllite had saw marks in it where the flattish plate of the reel had been imbedded. Sharp-edged saw marks that would have surely weathered rounder had it been wallowed out by water around the reel. I also suspect a drill hole to hold the one round reel support imbedded as well.

The only real question is who created this hoax. (Thanks to Donald Simanek for sending me the link).
Categories: Religion, Science
Posted by Alex on Tue May 10, 2005
Comments (34)
I'm a little late on this one, but better late than never. On May 4 Caltech students transformed the Hollywood Walk of Fame into the "Illustrious Scientists Walk of Fame": Students literally covered over 500 of the celebrity stars on Hollywood Blvd. with prestigious scientists such as Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, David Baltimore, Richard Feynman, Madame Currie... The prank was meant to coincide with the Commemorative U.S. Postage Stamp of preeminent Caltech physicist Richard P. Feynman.
Categories: Pranks, Science
Posted by Alex on Mon May 09, 2005
Comments (8)
A group of MIT students wrote a computer program capable of creating "random Computer Science research papers, including graphs, figures, and citations." They then used this program to create a paper that they submitted to an academic conference: the World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics, which sounds like a thrill a minute. The paper was accepted, which isn't really surprising since as the students point out conferences such as this are really 'fake' conferences "with no quality standards, which exist only to make money." The students hope to travel down to the conference (if they're still allowed to attend) and deliver a "completely randomly-generated talk."
Categories: Literature/Language, Science
Posted by Alex on Fri Apr 15, 2005
Comments (5)
I got this picture in my email, sent by Edna who's wondering if it's real. It looks real to me. The picture is accompanied by the following text, which also sounds accurate to me (as a non-meteorologist):

MT. St. Helens, which sits about 30 miles from Vancouver, as the crow flies, continues to spew ash, while it is forming a lava dome in the crater and still having minor tremors. In this sunrise shot, she appears to be blowing smoke rings (and anything so benign is welcomed, given recent history.) What forms the "smoke rings" is the air flowing over the mountain getting pushed up higher as it goes up and over the top. The moisture content and initial temperature are just right so that the moisture condenses from a vapor to small particles at the higher altitude. When the moving air moves past the peak and comes down again, the particles evaporate back to an invisible vapor. The two "pancakes" describe that there are two layers of air for which this is happening, thus making this awesome picture possible.
And here's another photo of a 'pancake cloud' (also sent by Edna). I don't know where this one was taken.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places, Science
Posted by Alex on Tue Apr 12, 2005
Comments (34)
I got an email from Enio asking me: I would like to know your opinion about Masaru Emoto's "Crystal Water Photos".

First, some background. Masaru Emoto's book The Hidden Messages in Water is currently #66 in sales rank on Amazon. That means A LOT of people are buying it. Here's the blurb from the cover that pretty much explains what Masaru Emoto and his crystal water photos are all about:

The Hidden Messages in Water is an eye-opening theory showing how water is deeply connected to people's individual and collective consciousness. Drawing from his own research, scientific researcher, healer, and popular lecturer Dr. Masaru Emoto describes the ability of water to absorb, hold, and even retransmit human feelings and emotions. Using high-speed photography, he found that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated thoughts are directed toward it. Music, visual images, words written on paper, and photographs also have an impact on the crystal structure. Emoto theorizes that since water has the ability to receive a wide range of frequencies, it can also reflect the universe in this manner. He found that water from clear springs and water exposed to loving words shows brilliant, complex, and colorful snowflake patterns, while polluted water and water exposed to negative thoughts forms incomplete, asymmetrical patterns with dull colors. Emoto believes that since people are 70 percent water, and the Earth is 70 percent water, we can heal our planet and ourselves by consciously expressing love and goodwill.

What do I think of this theory? Well, at the risk of giving off a lot of negative energy that's going to make a whole bunch of water crystals get all bent out of shape, I think it's complete baloney. But then, I'm not very 'open minded' about things like this. So I would think that.
(but I have to add: since when has the earth been 70 percent water? Do they mean the surface of the earth? That might make sense. But the earth itself ain't 70 percent water)
Categories: Photos/Videos, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 06, 2005
Comments (123)
image Yet another German archaeological fraud has possibly been uncovered. The Guardian reports that controversy has erupted over the authenticity of the 'Sky Disc of Nebra'. The disc, which shows the sun, moon and stars, was found in 1999 by two amateur metal detectors near the town of Nebra in Germany. It was believed to be 3600 years old. Now some experts, including Peter Schauer of Regensburg University, are claiming that it's a fake. This issue has arisen because the two guys who found it were charged with handling stolen goods after they tried to sell the disc to a museum. I don't really understand what the basis of the charge is. Were they not allowed to sell it because it's considered the property of the German government? Anyway, the basis of their defense is that the disc is fake, and therefore it is theirs to sell.
Categories: History, Science
Posted by Alex on Wed Mar 02, 2005
Comments (14)
A 15-year-old boy in India, Saurabh Singh, appears to have had everyone going with a story about how he won an international exam given by NASA to discover young scientists. The Indian media were singing his praises, and lawmakers were ready to give him money to facilitate his studies. Except that it turns out NASA gives no such exam. However, the boy is now changing his story, saying that the exam was given by Oxford University, not NASA. This all sounds strangely similar to the tale of Faye Nicole San Juan, the Filipino girl who just a few months ago claimed that she had won an International Science Quiz in Australia (the quiz didn't exist).
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 24, 2005
Comments (11)
United Nuclear sells some scary stuff. Looking for some uranium? They've got it. As well as super radioactive ore. They'll ship it right to your front door. Plus, chemicals to build explosives. It all has a jokey feel to it, but the more I look at the site, the more convinced I become that it's real. I think it's a store for science hobbyists that's purposely going for the 'mad scientist' feel.
Categories: Science
Posted by Alex on Thu Feb 24, 2005
Comments (51)
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