Drug-Resistant "Super Heartworms" Force Change In Treatment

For more from Dr. Ernie Ward, find him on Facebook or at www.drernieward.com.

Most of us are familiar with news stories describing how certain bacteria have become resistant to previously life-saving antibiotics. Now we have drug-resistant parasites, as in a newly discovered strain of super heartworms.

Heartworms are a leading cause of death in dogs and cats in the US. Heartworm disease is transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes. For the past few years, veterinary researchers have been tracking a particularly tough strain of heartworms in the mosquito heaven known as the Mississippi River Valley region. Dogs in this region have been reported to develop heartworm infection despite using preventives.

It turns out there’s a new strain of super heartworms that have evolved to be increasingly resistant to the most common heartworm preventive drugs – macrocyclic lactones (ML). This class of drugs includes all of the major active ingredients of heartworm preventives - ivermectin, selamectin, milbemycin oxime and moxidectin.

The good news is that our existing drugs still easily prevent the vast majority of heartworm disease. In fact, research proves that by administering a monthly preventive as prescribed, even the Mississippi River Valley, mutant super heartworms can be defeated. As long as the drug is given every month, even these super heartworms can’t cause infection. The problem is many pet parents forget a dose or two. Missing even a dose could be enough for these super-heartworms to cause an infection in an unprotected dog or cat. Monthly preventives and yearly testing is your best – and only – defense against this deadly disease.

In addition to increasing the importance of not missing a monthly preventive and having your dog tested for heartworm disease once a year, there have been big changes in how heartworm disease is treated. For the past several years there’s been a gradual increase in the number of heartworm-positive dogs treated using the “slow-kill” method. For the record, I’ve never recommended nor trusted this regimen. In short, the “slow-kill” technique involves giving only an ML preventive in an attempt to kill adult heartworms. This technique is cheaper, easier, and not as risky as traditional treatment using injectable Immiticide (melarsomine dihydrochloride). Unfortunately, it also doesn’t work in many cases. The latest recommendations for treatment advise veterinarians to discontinue this treatment approach.

Researchers are concerned that not only is “slow-kill” ineffective, it may also increase the risk of drug-resistant heartworms emerging. The bottom line: heartworm preventives should be used only for preventing – not treating – heartworm disease.

My advice to pet parents is simple:

  1. Give your dog or cat an approved monthly heartworm preventive year-round. As in every month January through December. Don’t miss it. If you do, call your vet.
  2. Have your dog, and possibly cat, tested for evidence of heartworm disease or exposure yearly. If diagnosed early enough, treatment is less risky and your pet has a better chance of an excellent outcome.
  3. Avoid mosquitoes as much as possible. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk and prefer wet, humid environments. Use pet-safe repellents when necessary.
  4. Conduct a neighborhood heartworm watch. You neighbor’s unprotected pets could be a hidden heartworm reservoir that puts your pet loved ones at risk. It takes a village to protect our pets.
  5. There is no treatment for heartworm disease in cats. Monthly preventive is your only hope. Mosquitoes conduct indoor excursions, too. At least in my house.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on:

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Drug-Resistant "Super Heartworms" Force Change In Treatment - pets

2017-01-11T10:28:04.594-08:00 I shall return! I know it's been quite a while since I've posted anything on my little corner of the interwebs. I've written a fair amount, but I'm still researching and polishing, as well as confusing myself by writing on several different topics simultaneously. So I have to go back, cut whole paragraphs and paste them into other posts, and then repeat the process. I've also been extremely busy with work matters, family stuff, and other skeptical and media projects. Some of the topics I'm currently working on, when I get the chance are Pliny the Elder (thanks to the Sawbones Podcast and Blurry Photos for getting him stuck in my head), dowsing, Reiki, psychics, the Skirvin Hotel, and several opinion pieces, including one on the proliferation of alt med journals and another on why people in the skeptical community aren't the bad guys.

If you enjoy my writing, and it seems that some people do, then please, please, please, share my posts on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Google+, hell, you can put them on MySpace. Also, leave comments. I do read everything, and if I can, I do reply. Also, if there is something you'd like to read my take on, then go ahead and leave a suggestion in the comments, and I'll look into it. Right now, it appears most people want to read more about various cryptids, based on which ones have the greatest number of views. I enjoy reading and researching the various monsters that are supposedly out there. The problem is that there are so many of them, it's hard to know where to start, and a lot of them barely have any info to write a sensible article on.

So as I said in the title, I will return to writing here soon, I hope. Of course, that depends on how much free time I'll have coming up. Until then, be skeptical, not cynical.

2016-01-12T13:55:02.060-08:00 GMOs for the Beginning Skeptic I hope that everyone had an enjoyable holiday season. Of course, living in Oklahoma, the winter always has a few surprises in store, which normally involve ice storms, power outages, and of course, a brown/green Christmas. I've been mulling over what sort of post to start the year off with, if it should be a heavily opinionated rant, a topical current event, or a more researched fact based post. Then I realized that there is a topic that can easily cover all three. This is something that is fodder for some really rather outrageous claims. The fear mongers will rail against a variety of companies that they think use them, and the conspiracy theorists and the "natural living" crowd tend to get up in arms about them.The results is that proponents get hate mail, death threats, and are accused of being shills, naturally, and the companies are boycotted, or otherwise threatened financially. Of course, I intend to talk about GMOs. Any topic that can piss off Vani Hari (The Food Babe), Mike Adams (The Health Ranger), Joseph Mercola, Alex Jones(InfoWars and Above Top Secret), and David Avocado Wolfe is definitely one that the skeptical community should learn about, and take every opportunity to refute the more outrageous claims and provide factual evidence.

What are GMOs?
This is a question that can be rather difficult to answer. The quick and dirty definition of a GMO is any organism that has been altered from it's original form through manipulation. Technically, this definition not only includes actual genetic manipulation, but natural selection and controlled breeding programs. The USDA defines GMO as: " An organism produced through genetic modification." , though they prefer the term Agricultural biotechnology. The FDA states that "Genetically engineered foods are also referred to as biotech, bioengineered, and genetically modified (GM) foods. Because from a scientific perspective, the term "genetic modification" means the alteration of the genotype of an organism using any technique, and therefore also encompasses plants altered through means including conventional breeding and selection, The FDA uses the term "genetically engineered," or "GE," to distinguish organisms that have been modified using genetic engineering (also known as modern biotechnology) from those modified through traditional breeding." Of course, Mirriam-Webster defines it as "genetically modified organism". Notice that the terms "frankenfood" or "evil" aren't anywhere in there. GM crops and animals, generally speaking, have been modified through genetic engineering to improve yields, disease resistance, earlier maturing, or to possess or remove certain traits. Normally, they will splice in genes from related organisms that have the desired trait. An example is taking the gene for resistance to corn smut (a type of fungus) and splicing it into a high yield variety that has little or no resistance to smut. The result: a high yield corn plant that is resistant to corn smut. Taking genes from animals and putting them into plants is primarily done in a purely experimental setting. The same holds for things like human genes or biofluorescenct genes in pigs. You're not going to get a glowing human/pig porckchop anytime soon. The biofluorscence is used in conjunction with certain genes to determine if they've been activated or not. Though glowing mice and pigs do look pretty cool, admittedly. We have been doing genetic modifications on plants and animals for thousands of years. Before we had the tools to actually manipulate the genes, we did it the slow way by breeding plants and animals that had the traits we wanted, then breeding the offspring, and so on. Now, we can cut out dozens, if not hundreds of years, and hopefully get the results we want within 1 or 2 generations. Of course, the opponents to GM products make it sound like there is a mad scientist somewhere that creates a mutant and then unleashes it on an unknowing public. The truth is that before they are released for consumers, there are many years of studies to determine if the alterations will breed true between the generations, if there are any harmful effects to either humans or animals, depending on who will be the final consumer, and if there are any environmental risks. Then the results have to be published and submitted to the government and approved.

The Controversies:
There are a lot of controversies surrounding GMOs, some are real, others are completely made out of whole cloth. An actual concern over GM plants and animals would be "What if they escape into the wild?" Gene transfer is a concern because if you have, say, mice that have been engineered for resistance to a particular rodenticide, and they escape and breed with the wild population, then that can make pest control even more difficult than it already is. The same goes for plants that are resistant to certain herbicides. For the most part, there are controls in place to prevent the animals from escaping and breeding. The main one for animals, outside of strict handling protocols, is that they don't produce certain nutrients that have to be supplemented by the lab, otherwise the animals perish. For plants, this is also a major concern, and many of the GM plants have been engineered so that the altered genes aren't incorporated into the pollen, so therefore shouldn't be able to give those traits to related plants, though as Jeff Goldbloom noted in the original Jurassic Park, nature will find a way. There is always a minuscule chance of this happening, but the controls are pretty solid. "Should GM products be labeled?" is another question that has been in the news lately. You have one side saying that everything with some form of GMO in it needs to have a label. You have the other side saying that the manufacturers shouldn't label them because it will promote the idea that they may be dangerous. Personally, I don't have an opinion on the matter. On one hand, if someone wants to avoid GMO foods, then the labeling would help them make what they feel to be a healthier choice. On the other hand, I agree that putting some sort of label does seem to imply that there is a risk, which ties into another concern people often have about GMOs. "Are there health risks with eating GMOs?" Honestly, none of the reliable research that I've read even implies that there is a risk. And before you start bringing up Monsanto and Seralini or the StarLink corn, let me just say that I will discuss these in a bit. There are also some groups that will claim that the widespread adoption of GM products is part of the NWO's nefarious plot to either cause a massive genocide or to keep the sheeple calm and pliable. Other claims along these lines they cause cancer, or autism, or are a delivery device for a variety of diseases, nanotech, or poisons. These are the sanest of the odd ideas about GMOs. Seriously, there are some that include aliens, chemtrails, 9-11, the terrorist group of the week, mind control, or the World Bank. I'm not even going to dignify them by discussing them. The funny thing is that, for all the protests and complaints, there are only 8 GM crops that you can get in the US. They are, according to Kellie Blair, soybeans, corn (field and sweet), papaya, canola, cotton, alfalfa, sugar beets and summer squash

The Benefits:
There are a handful of benefits to using GMOs. One of the most valuable is improved or added nutritional value to various crops. Golden rice is a perfect example of this. Golden rice is GM rice that has a gene for beta-carotene. This in turn helps the body to produce vitamin A. In some parts of the world, people are suffering from vitamin A deficiencies, which cause, according to the WHO, "Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) is the leading cause of preventable blindness in children and increases the risk of disease and death from severe infections. In pregnant women VAD causes night blindness and may increase the risk of maternal mortality" Another benefit of using GM crops is the increased yield per plant. Given that there are already more than 7 billion people on the planet, and we are already using around 40 % of the land for farming, according to an article in National Geographic (pre Murdoch), higher yields are probably a good thing. Another advantage of GMOs is increased disease or pesticide resistance, which means that farmers actually apply pesticides less often, which means that less gets into the environment. Increased resistance to disease also means that there would be less loss and waste. Gm crops can also be grown in arid or drought stricken areas, reducing hunger and death from starvation. GM animals can be used for disease or nutritional research, instead of more costly human trials. GM crops use less pesticides and fertilizers, or have faster germination and growth, thereby reducing costs. These are some of the immediate benefits to GM crops and animals. as our techniques improve, such as CRISPR and gene drives, we will find more beneficial uses for GMOs that we might have considered but didn't have the ability to develop.

The Risks:
Nothing comes without some sort of risk, however. As I said earlier, gene transfer is an actual risk with GMOs, but there are safeguards in place. Granted, they aren't 100%, but they are in place, and they have shown to be quite effective. You'll often hear people talk about GM crops promote herbicide resistant weeds, but in all honesty, this would happen with or without GM crops. Resistance to toxins is something that all organisms can develop, given enough time. Another risk that I do occasionally hear of, and I agree with, is even further development of monoculture farming practices. When you have plants that are resistant to herbicides, have higher yields, and are less prone to various illnesses, then you tend to try and grow as much of it as you can. Most current agriculture practices involve crop rotation to not only reduce certain types of weeds, but also to give the soil a chance to recover. Another risk is that there may be unintended consequences on other species. The best known example of this is Bt corn. This is a type of transgenic corn that actually creates it's own pesticide. Unfortunately, it has had an effect not only on the Corn Borer, a pest insect of corn that causes millions of dollars of damage every year, but also on the Monarch butterfly. There is a chance that any GM plant can have further environmental effects than what was originally intended. This is why there are so many years of studies made before a particular GM crop can be offered to the general consumer. Most GM animals, with a few exceptions, are specifically created and bred for scientific research, and not human consumption. They are bred to have certain traits, such as developing cancer after a certain amount of time (this will be relevant shortly), develop an analog to human diabetes, or other conditions that humans suffer from. This allows researchers to run experiments and tests for treatments on analogs to humans before going on to human trials. Another risk is that if these GM plants and animals get out into the wild populations, they can impact the vitality of the already existing organisms. The excellent science communicator Bill Nye had expressed some concerns over GM crops, which seemed to come as a shock to many people in the skeptical community. This is actually what skepticism is about. Mr. Nye actually went and met with the head of Monsanto, looked at the processes and safeguards in place, and changed his mind. This is a basic tenant of skepticism, the ability to change our minds as new data emerges.

Monsanto, Seralini, and StarLink:
I pretty sure that by now, you've heard of at least 2 of these, but just in case you haven't, I'll give a bit of information about them.
Monsanto: This company is one of the largest manufacturers of agriculture chemicals and bioengineered seeds. It was started in 1901 as a food additive company, and then became an industrial chemical company, and then got into the agriculture chemical business. It has either spun off or gotten rid of most of its other chemical properties and focused primarily on the agriculture sector. It is also know as the maker of RoundUp, a glyphosate herbicide that has a definite impact on modern farming practices. The company is also known for aggressively pursuing what it feels are infringements on their patents. They have, over the years had a rather dubious history, including DDT, helping with the development of the first nuclear weapons, and AstroTurf. Keep in mind, other companies were making similar products, but very few were involved in so many different things. This history, and the companies rather litigious behavior, or most likely the reason that so many people just don't trust anything to come out of their labs.
Seralini: Gilles-Eric Seralini is a French molecular biologist and the co-founder of an organization that opposes GM foods. In 2012, he published an experiment attempting to demonstrate that Monsantos GM corn and RoundUp are dangerous. "The study used 100 male and 100 female Sprague Dawley rats, divided into twenty groups with 10 rats each. Ten diets were tested separately on the males and females. The diets comprised 11 percent, 22 percent and 33 percent genetically modified corn (NK603) and the rest standard laboratory rat food NK603 corn that had been treated with Roundup, also at 11, 22 and 33 percent and corn that had not been genetically modified, accompanied by differing concentrations of Roundup in the water. A control group was fed 33 percent non-GMO corn the rest of their diet was standard laboratory rat food." (From the Wikipedia article on the Seralini Affair) Why the fuck was he putting RoundUp in the water? One failing of this experiment is that no one knows if there was actually any RoundUp on the corn fed the rats because no one bothered to test or measure it. There was also no limit to how much food any of the groups could consume. A major issue with this study is the genetic line of the rats. The Sprague Dawley rat is genetically engineered through breeding (see the irony here folks) for lab tests,and it is well known that they spontaneously develop tumors, and the more food the rat eats, the more tumors it will develop. He also did not talk about how they accounted for this fact in his study.

Image from Allposter.com
Cute little thing, isn't it. Looking into the rats themselves, it's been shown that up to 80% of females will develop tumors within 18 months, which are similar numbers to what Seralini claims were the result of exposure to GM crops and RoundUp. He also only had 1 control group, but basically 9 different experiments. The control animal got 33% non-GM corn,and the rest was standard lab rat chow. That would be the control for 1 of the damned test groups, not all of them. And even then, there were no groups just getting 100% standard rat food as a control against corn. (Hint: even with this food, the occurrence of tumors would have been roughly the same.) A fun and interesting note is that fewer male rats died that were eating 22% or 33% of their diet as GM corn. The same held true for the groups with the higher concentrations of RoundUp. Funny that this didn't make it into the press release . Also funny that they didn't realize that there were some serious problems with the experiment design. There are a lot of other problems with the study that you can read here. It's actually pretty interesting, so I would say go ahead and have a look.

StarLink Corn: This is a Bt corn with an added modification for resistance to glufosinate, an herbicide. The corn was originally developed for use in both animal and human food. However, due to insufficient evidence that it wasn't allergenic due to one compound remaining in the gut before it is broken down, the EPA denied the permit. So the manufacturer PGS, submitted 2 permit requests. The one for animal feed was approved in 1998. The corn ended up in a handful of products because several grain mills that distributed corn to manufacturers did not separate GM and conventionally grown corn. A group called Genetically Engineered Food Alert (which sounds mildly ominous) found that some items had StarLink corn in them and notified the FDA. The end result is that the products were recalled, and even though about 50 people claimed to have adverse effects, and 28 were determined to be possible, after further testing by the CDC, it was determined that there were no ill effects from consuming the corn. There were also many lawsuits for many millions of dollars against the manufacturers, the processing plants, and the governmental agencies.

GMOs are not inherently evil or dangerous. If developed and tested properly, the benefits to mankind could be equivalent to the discovery of fire. That's not to say they are without their risks, but that should emphasize the importance of the years of testing and making sure sufficient safeguards are in place. To make sure that the possible risks don't outweigh the rewards. There is a lot of blatantly false information being propagated by anti-GMO activists such as GreenPeace (never thought I'd write something negative about them), Seralini, Vani Hari, Mike Adams, and The Avacado. These are people that seem to be scared of the idea that they would ever eat something made by science rather than naturally grown. I'm not saying that everyone needs to eat GM products, and if you want to avoid them, that's perfectly fine. Just don't try and intimidate people and companies into thinking the way you want them to. I would prefer people come to their own conclusion using actual information, and scientifically rigorous studies to make their decision and not use a single source for information, especially internet memes. When people try and use fear tactics and science illiteracy as bludgeons, that's when we need to use facts and resources as a scalpel to counter them. Just cut away a bit at a time at the tumorous growth that is misinformation.

2015-12-28T11:57:43.982-08:00 We are experiencing technical difficulty. Just a short note to let any loyal readers know that due to the new Oklahoma phenomenon of icenadoes, (thanks climate change deniers!) plus the holidays coupled with work issues, I'm going to be taking a brief hiatus. I hope to be back with new posts after the first of the year, and back on a somewhat regular schedule. Some of the topics I'm going to be looking into are GMOs, climate change deniers, psychics, Reiki, and I might dip my toes into the arena of political rhetoric. Plus, I am currently writing a book, and of course trying to get the first episode of Red Dirt Skeptics finished, edited, and published. So, Have a happy holiday, great New Years Eve, and I'll see you in 2016, unless some of the doomsday predictions happen to come true. If you have any suggestions for topics you'd like me to look into and butcher, feel free to leave a comment.

2015-12-22T10:03:15.689-08:00 Chiropractic for the Beginning Skeptic I hope that everyone is having a happy, safe, and joyous holiday season. This weeks topic is one that has bothered me for quite a few years, and I have personally experienced. I'm talking about chiropractic. As with many of the various alternative medicine practices, it makes a lot of claims about what it is able to do, ranging from helping with lower back back, which is the most likely, to helping with erectile dysfunction and asthma, which are very dubious claims.

The story of chiropractic starts way back in the fog of ancient China and Greece. At least according to the American Chiropractic Association. They say that there are written records that describe spinal manipulation for lower back pain. I have no way to substantiate these claims, so I'll leave them alone. The official origin of chiropractic is a bit more recent. In 1895, Daniel David Palmer, who ran a magnetic healing clinic, tried the first adjustment on a partially deaf janitor in Davenport, Iowa. According to the stories, a few days later, the janitor remarked to Palmer that his hearing seemed to be a bit better. As far as I've been able to find, there were no tests done on the mans ability to hear before or after Palmer's treatment. Palmer began to promote chiropractic shortly afterwards, which was comparable to osteopathy. According to Mirriam-Webster, osteopathy is: a system of medical practice based on a theory that diseases are due chiefly to loss of structural integrity which can be restored by manipulation of the parts supplemented by therapeutic measures (as use of drugs or surgery). Notice that the definition includes the use of drugs or surgery. Chiropractic generally tends to shun the use of more modern medical techniques. Basically, it sounds a lot like physical therapy, except for the whole disease is caused by a loss of structural integrity bit. Both were based in many of the beliefs that drove the spiritualism movement at the end of the 19th century, including magnetism, vitalism, and naturalism, which makes it very difficult to use the scientific method to ascertain the efficacy of treatment. In 1897, Palmer started the Palmer School of Chiropractic, which is still around. Palmer had made the claim that adjustments, or as they are known in the business, subluxations, are the key to curing all disease. Since then, the interest and use of chiropractic had waxed and waned for decades, until the 1990's when there was a steady rise in the interest and use of chiropractic. There have been several schisms in the history of chiropractic. One of the first was over what Palmer described as "innate intelligence". This is directly related to the magnetism and vitalism ideas of the late 1800's. Many practitioners have moved away from this idea because they feel that it prevents them from being taken seriously in the scientific medicine community. Another schism occurred over the idea of chiropractic being the "only" treatment for disease, or as part of a suite of treatments. The straights, as Palmer called them, believed that chiro (yes, I'm shortening the word from here on out.) was not just the best treatment for all illnesses, but it was the only one. The mixers, which Palmer despised, thought that chiro could be used in addition to surgery and drugs. Palmer felt that the mixers were polluting the "specific, pure, and unadulterated" chiropractic tradition. His words, not mine. This schism still exists today, with the straights being in the minority.
As I mentioned earlier, Palmer started the first chiropractic college in 1897, and today, there are dozens of accredited colleges around the world. Many of them follow a similar education program, though some are regarded as being better than others. Most of the accreditation seems to be through the ACA (American Chiropractic Association) and not the AMA (American Medical Association) In regards to the US, each state requires practicing chiropractors to be licensed. This started in 1907, and Louisiana was the last state to require it in 1974. When it comes to monitoring and discipline of chiropractors, they are pretty much self regulated, reporting to the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards. An interesting read on licensing, with a few notations, can be found at http://www.chirobase.org/05RB/AHCPR/05.html. To date, chiro is still viewed as an alternative or fringe medical procedure by the medical community at large, though holistic and integrated practitioners do include it in their services.

Theory and Practices:
The basic theory behind chiro concerns subluxation, which is that there is a misalignment of the spine, which causes various illnesses and conditions. There are some interesting articles on the Science Based Medicine Blog and Quack Watch on this, as well as chiro in general, which I'll put in the footnotes. Many chiropractors, though not all, believe that a misalignment of the spine can cause problems in the nervous system, which in turn can lead to disease and problems with various organs. If you can fix the problem by manipulating the spine, then you can cure the disease. The way this is normally achieved is by attempting to move the vertebrae into what the practitioner deems to be a proper position, which often results in the familiar popping sound. Many chiros will use X-rays to see if the spine is out of alignment and try and determine what they will need to do to put it back. Many people do often report that they feel better for a while after one of these treatments, though how much is due to either endorphin release or the placebo effect is nearly impossible to tell. There is a minority of chiros that don't believe in the subluxation theory, and feel that chiro should be viewed more as a form of physical therapy or for relief of lower back pain. These folks are often dismissed by the larger chiropractic crowd. I would go into the details of what is involved, but almost everyone has some idea. Just in case you don't, basically it involves the practitioner contorting the patient's back and applying pressure along the spine in an attempt to realign the back. There are some minute variations, but that is basically the gist of it. Of course, there are some chiros that will incorporate TCM (traditional chinese medicine) such as acupunture and acupressure or they will include chakras, Reiki, crystals, herbalism, natural medicine, or homeopathy into their practice, but these are all separate topics, many of which I have already written about and don't feel like going into here.

The Claims:
Here is where we get into the fun stuff folks, what the believers in chiropractic claim it can do. Much like every other alternative medicine under the sun, there are a wide variety of claims. However, unlike many other types of alt-med, there are practitioners that will tell you it is good for 1 thing, and anything else, you need to see either a general practitioner or a specialist. Due to the various medical and advertising laws, many chiros are pretty careful about what they say they can do. They tend to avoid words like "cure" and "heal" and instead use more generic terms like "treat" or "relieve" or "help with". But they still make a number of claims on what they can do. According to the ACA, they can treat back and neck pain, headaches, injuries of the musculoskeletal system, and general health issues, because the structure affects overall health. You will also find chiros advertising that they can help with some of the following

  • Athletic injuries
  • Allergies
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • ADD/HD
  • Back and neck pain
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Chronic sinus issues
  • Constipation
  • Colic
  • Ear Infections
  • Gastrointestinal dysfunction
  • Headaches/Migraines
  • Herniated/Degenerative Disc
  • Hip/Sacro-Iliac Pain
  • Learning Disorders
  • Menstrual dysfunction
  • Menopausal symptoms
  • Neurodevelopmental conditions
  • “Pinched” nerve
  • Poor immune system function
  • Reflux
  • Sciatica
  • Scoliosis
  • Stress
  • Whiplash
    (I pulled all these from a single chiropractic clinics website)
Plus many, many more. Notice that the body systems that are claimed to be effected are much more than just the spine. The immune system, the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system, and there's a couple of neurological conditions listed as well. Other practitioners will claim that they can treat a wide variety of viral and bacterial infections as well. It's making me think of that old song "Dem Bones". You know the one. "The head bone is connected to the neck bone". etc. I think that the chiropractic community knows a few more verses than most other people. The site I got the list from says that they don't treat, just diagnose and remove subluxations, which in turns allows better communication between the brain and body, which is a common belief among many practitioners. The exact mechanism that purports to do all this is a complete unknown, and even chiros will admit it. I will grant that all the bodily systems are connected in the loosest sense by all being in the same bag of skin and it's all controlled by the nervous system, but that's about it. Popping your back will not help with asthma. There is absolutely no reason that it would. Asthma is often an inflammation in the lungs, so trying to realign the spine wouldn't have any effect on that.

Now to pull the curtain aside and have a look at the evidence:

That's pretty much what I found. There is some evidence that chiropractic adjustments can have some effect on lower back pain, but that's really about it. Just using your Google machine, you'll find lots of reports on how well it can treat a wide variety of conditions, but most of these are pretty biased. Trying to find an unbiased view is actually fairly difficult. I don't want to rely too heavily on people like Steve Novella or Mark Crislip, who are well known in the skeptic communities as promoters of science based medicine. So I try and stick to relatively unbiased sites and just see what the studies and evidence happen to say. If you look at the CDC you'll see a few studies on the efficacy of chiro, and for the most part, they seem to show some effect for back pain, but not much else. The studies that claim to show efficacy for other conditions are poorly done, with few if no controls, rely heavily on anecdotal evidence, or are completely unrepeatable. If you look at the NIH, you'll see a lot of the same. If you look close, you'll see a lot of papers with a particular name on them. Edzard Ernst. He has spent most of his life studying forms of alternative medicine, including going through a chiropractic college. He has probably done more study into these issues than anyone else alive, and to be honest, I tend to believe what he has found. Here is a link to an article that he wrote on chiro, and just for the hell of it, here is his site. (Because I don't put enough links in my posts. :p) A major critique of chiro, as well as most other alt med practices, is a complete lack of well done studies that actually show a statistical significance for their efficacy, though this doesn't stop the believers from using them as evidence that they were right, and Big Pharma is trying to keep them silent on the issue. Yep, there is a minor conspiracy thread that is woven throughout most alt med mythology.

The cost of going to a chiropractor may seem to be fairly small, with the average session costing around $65 or so (in the US), but consider that they will often want you to come back anywhere from twice a month to twice a week. That can end up being anywhere from $1,560-$6,760 a year, using the average cost per visit. Of course, some charge less, some charge more, and there are insurance policies that cover this. There are going to be risks any time someone is messing with your back and neck. This can be something as relatively minor as a pinched nerve or stiffness. However, there are much more serious risks, including paralysis, stroke, and even death. These risks are greater for infants and toddlers. Most chiros won't touch a small child, though as with anything else, if you look hard enough, you'll find one that does. According to the Mayo Clinic, some problems that can stem from having an adjustment done are a herniated disk or a vertebral artery dissection (a particular type of stroke). From the website chirobase.org, " There are well-documented medical cases of serious disorder to the cervical spine, cervical disc, cerebellum, spinal cord or to the cerebral arteries which ascend through the foramina in the cervical vertebrae, all of which are therefore subject to be bruised and injured with forceful manipulation. There are also well-documented cases of occlusion of cerebral vessels and injury to the brain stem which involves a key area for regulation of the head and neck and an area through which all important outgoing stimuli from the nervous System or incoming sensory data are fed. Such thrombotic lesions are productive of grave and permanent neurological defects, either by infection of the brain stem or stricture by injury to the arteries which supply these vital regions." Of course, Edzard Ernst has written an article titled "20 Things Most Chiropractors Won't Tell You". ( I'll admit it. Yes, I am using a somewhat biased source here. That is mostly due to the fact that the chiro industry is pretty insular when it comes to reporting injuries and complications from any of their practitioners. They are, for the most part self regulating, so everything is done in-house, unless someone brings a lawsuit, or it gets into mass media. ) And there is of course the reported cases of people being crippled or dying due to their treatments. In 2014, here in Oklahoma, a 30 year old man died after receiving a treatment and suffering a stroke on the chiros table. There was a systematic study done on deaths caused by adjustments, and the conclusion is that the risks do not out weigh the possible benefits. Tim Farley, of Whatstheharm.net has an article on there as well. There are also many stories of children being accidentally killed by chiros. These stories are pretty gruesome and depressing, so I'm not going to go into detail or post links to them. If you're in a really morbid mood, just Google the terms Chiropractic child death. I'm just going to say in plain and simple english " Never take a child to a chiropractor! It's a damn bad idea all the way 'round!" A child's skeleton isn't developed enough to withstand a chiropractic adjustment. They are still growing and developing, and these treatments can easily cause permanent problems that the child will have to live with for the rest of their life.

As I have said before, I'm not an sort of scientist or researcher. I simply attempt to look into the various issues I cover, and I do try and give everything a fair shake. (I guess that makes me a researcher of sorts?) That being said, most things I write about just don't have the evidence to support their claims, and chiropractic isn't any different. There is some evidence to support the claims of helping with certain types of lower back pain, and there is a small contingent of chiropractic practitioners that will send patients to general practitioners or specialists if it is something other than that. But the majority of proponents for chiro will claim it effective for a great many other problems, saying that they all stem from subluxations. This is another form of magical thinking. Yes, there are hundreds of studies claiming to show the efficacy of chiropractic and the believers will point out that there aren't nearly as many studies showing either little or no effect. It's simply a matter of quantity or quality. And before anyone says it, I'm going to go ahead and say no, chiro won't help with your childs ear infection, and if they have chronic ear infections, take them to a pediatrician damn it! Once again , any cure-all cures nothing. For once, I'm going to include a variety of other skeptical resources for you to look through. These guys are medical professionals and know what they are talking about. I'm just a simple jackass that tries to keep an open mind and look at all the evidence. So, until next time, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure to wash your hands.

2016-01-25T08:24:24.608-08:00 What the hell is Morgellons? I thought I'd take a brief break from my poorly written and worded opinion pieces and my more on going "Things for the Beginning Skeptic" series and try tackling a topic that I've been interested in ever since I heard about it. Not to fear, there are still many more Beginning Skeptic articles to come, including Aliens, Therapeutic Touch and Reiki, Assisted Communication, Chiropractic, and Dowsing. I might try to do one later on how to determine if scientific results, as presented by most popular media outlets, can be trusted. (Hint: Look at the sources) But enough of that. Today, I'm going to take a look at Morgellons Disease.

What is Morgellons?
The term Morgellons Disease was coined, according to Wikipedia, in 2002 by Mary LeiTao. According to the Mayo Clinic, Morgellons disease is an uncommon, unexplained skin disorder characterized by sores, crawling sensations on and under the skin, and fiber-like filaments emerging from the sores. It's not certain what these strings are. Some say they are wisps of cotton thread, probably coming from clothing or bandages. Others say they result from an infectious process in the skin cells. Further study is needed.

Also WebMd says this about the condition:
Morgellons is a controversial and poorly understood condition in which unusual thread-like fibers appear under the skin. The patient may feel like something is crawling, biting, or stinging all over.

Some medical experts say Morgellons is a physical illness. Others suggest it is a type of psychosis called "delusional parasitosis," in which a person thinks parasites have infected their skin.

Your doctor may call it an "unexplained dermopathy," which means a skin condition that occurs without a known reason. Other medical professionals have dubbed the condition "fiber disease."
I know some of the readers will be saying "Oh great, now this putz is referencing WebMd." But when you think of the number of people that will use the site, and the internet in general, to self-diagnose, it makes perfect sense to include their definition in this article.
Basically what these 2 definitions are saying is that Morgellons is a condition where unknown hairs or fibers appear either underneath the first dermal layer or are growing out through the skin. A common image of this looks a bit like:

Image from morgellonsdiseaseawareness.com

There were a lot of other pictures I could have used, but for some reason, many of them were of some guys junk or some truly gruesome lesions on the head and face. The picture I'm using is zoomed in way too close for me to determine if there is a scar there or not. As for these fibers, they come in a variety of colors and textures. This implies that there isn't a single source, and the CDC does have something to say on it, which I'll bring up later. For the people suffering from this condition, it can be terrifying, and frustrating. There is no known cause or treatment, though there has been some relief with certain psychiatric medications. It doesn't appear to be transmissible or infectious, nor any sort of genetically inheritable condition, though there are those that claim it is passed down through family lines. Some of the symptoms are itching, the feeling of insects crawling on the skin, rashes, sores, fatigue, short term memory loss, and of course the mysterious fibers.

What causes it?
What the exact cause or source of the condition is, no one knows, but there are several hypotheses, and a couple of them will have you scratching your head, saying "What the hell?". Many of the possible, or proposed causes of this condition tend to be psychological in nature. One possible candidate is Delusional Parasitosis, which is a condition that has the exact same symptoms as Morgellons. Some health professionals feel that Morgellons may just be a new name for a known condition. Delusional Parasitosis is basically a mental condition where the patient believes that they are infested with bugs, either on or under the skin. To be perfectly honest, this seems to be one of the most likely causes of Morgellons. According to the CDC:

Neuropsychological testing revealed a substantial number of study participants who scored highly in screening tests for one or more co-existing psychiatric or addictive conditions, including depression, somatic concerns (an indicator of preoccupation with health issues), and drug use.
Combine mental health issues with either over medicating or the wrong medication and illegal drugs, and you could develop a condition that exactly mirrors Morgellons. The fibers that people report finding could come from their clothing and be accidentally inserted into the skin, and the skin heals up around the fiber. Again from the CDC:

Upon thorough analysis, most sores appeared to result from chronic scratching and picking, without an underlying cause. And now for some of the fun ones. Get your popcorn ready. There are claims that the government, Big Pharma, or the NWO is doing this, either through some unknown infectious agent, chemtrails, fluoride, vaccinations, or while their victims are asleep. Damn you, NWO.

Picture from escobar300.wordpress.com
Not them. Sorry. The NWO I'm talking about is, of course, the nefarious, no good, out to take it all New World Order. I guess that still describes the wrestlers, doesn't it. How about the evil cabal that runs all the governments and media and wants everyone under their control. Yet they still can't get Alex Jones off the air?? Yes, there are conspiracy theories tied to Morgellons. Some people claim that the fibers are metallic and are either some sort of receiver or transmitter for tracking them. Which is an almost perfect segue to the next theory.
You had to know this was coming.
Yep, there are some people that believe that the fibers are some sort of alien implant, organic communication device, symbiote, offspring, or tracking device. All I'm going to say is you have to prove that intelligent extraterrestrial life has visited the planet before you can make the claim that they are doing more than just probing butts.

2015-12-09T17:22:32.653-08:00 Ghosts for the Beginning Skeptic Ok folks, as promised, here is the next installment of the "Things for the Beginning Skeptic" series. I am going to try and stick to more researched topics for a while, so the lag between posts might be even longer than it has been. This is a topic that has interested me for years, mostly because I grew up listening to ghost stories that supposedly involved various family members.I'm not going to get into the various ghost hunting groups or the equipment that they claim to use. I'm just going to talk about the supposed types of ghosts.I don't mean Slimer, Casper, or Christmas Past. I mean poltergeists, haints, spooks, spirits, and hauntings. I guess that as usual we should start with a .

Definition: According to Mirriam-Webster, a ghost is: a disembodied soul especially : the soul of a dead person believed to be an inhabitant of the unseen world or to appear to the living in bodily likeness. A ghost could be most easily defined as the energy left behind by a person or event that has an effect on the visible world. I personally would define them as an illusion or a hallucination. Often, they are reported as a feeling of being watched, a shape seen from the corner of the eye, a shadowy figure, or any of a number of other vague descriptions. Ghosts, in their various forms, are often blamed for odd occurrences, such as a chair rocking when no one is in it, a door opening or closing on it's own, or a sudden chill. Like so many other things in the world of pseudoscience, instead of looking for natural explanations first, believers in ghosts jump straight to the end of the line and yell GHOST!

2016-01-25T08:22:00.367-08:00 Science, skepticism, and the wonders of the world (Opinion) Hope that everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday, or if you're not in the U.S., your Thursday. As always, things have been a bit hectic here at the Skeptical Okie headquarters. We're hoping to begin the Red Dirt Skeptics podcast pretty soon. The first episodes should be coming out in January, though that is subject to change. Another bit of fun that's cropped up recently, and completely unrelated to this post, is the resurgence of a group that I was sure was dead and gone. This group is called "Oklahomans for Vaccine Choice" This is a blatantly anti-vax group, plain and simple. For several years, their website was basically dead. They recently did a show, and yes, I am using show instead of talk, at UCO. Luckily, Caleb Lack and the UCO Skeptics were there to try and have a discussion with them. I'm going to do an interview with Caleb later on this, so I'll try and keep you posted. I know I've done a couple of opinion pieces in a row, and I'm hoping to have another For the Beginning Skeptic article out soon. Now on to the main point of todays article.

Often, I hear people saying that science just wants to get rid of all the wonder in the world and replace it with facts and numbers. It's not just the pseudoscience crowd that says this, it's often just regular people that don't fall into either the skeptical or pseudoscience camps. I really feel that this does a great disservice to science and skepticism. Yes, science wants to know how and why things work, and be able to describe them in a quantitative manner. That doesn't mean that the wonder of the world would be destroyed. In all honesty, it increases it greatly. Look at it this way:

Step outside and look at a flower. Then consider this: In order for you to see the flower, even if it's a simple dandelion, there so many things that had to happen first. The photon that bounces off of the flower and enters your eye started in the heart of our sun. It took up to a million years for the photon to leave the core of the sun and reach it's surface. Then it has to leave the sun, travel 91 million miles (at it's closest point) and reach Earth, which it does in 8 minutes. That single photon then travels through the atmosphere, avoiding hitting anything else, hit the petals of the flower and ricochet into your eye and then your eye and brain translate that into a visual image.
For that flower to deflect the photon, there has been million years of evolution, with the ancestors surviving various weather conditions, not being eaten, adapting to different environmental conditions, and finding a suitable partner to reproduce with. They have also had to be able to compete with other lifeforms for valuable resources, and this flower in particular had to germinate in a suitable location, survive insects and herbivores, lawnmowers and herbicides, and develop and grow a flower bloom. Also consider the very interesting fact that, in the case of the dandelion, the flower isn't actually yellow. It's every color except yellow. The way that color works is that the one you see is the one that is reflected back. All the other colors like red, green, blue, etc, are actually absorbed by the flower, and because yellow light isn't absorbed by the flower, it is the one that you see.
In order for you to see the flower, once again there was millions of years of evolution, starting from single celled organisms, with your direct ancestors surviving multiple mass extinction events, changing and adapting to a wide range of climates. They also had to spread around the planet, develop senses to interpret the world around them, and in the case of humans, develop a brain capable of appreciating the environment around them. Then consider the fact that your parents, their parents, and so on and so on, had to meet, create a child, and that child grow to maturity and procreate themselves. If they had met a different person and had children with them, you might not exist. There are around 100 million sperm trying to reach an egg, and you are the one that won the race. And to up the odds of your existence even more, roughly 50% of all pregnancies end in miscarriages.
Back to the single photon hitting your eye. You had to develop an optical system and brain capable of capturing the photon, and translating it into a visual image that is understandable. Then, you had to be in the correct place at the correct time for that individual photon to leave the sun, travel through space, get through the atmosphere, bounce off the flower and enter your eye. If you're a statistician, try figuring the odds on all that.
Science and skepticism aren't trying to destroy all the wonder in the world. They actually enhance and improve the wonder, especially when you consider the odds of anything actually happening. This is why I prefer science to bullshit. There are enough amazing things to see, learn, and experience in the world without making more up. You don't need spirits, monsters, magic powers, or mysterious magical medicine when there is physics, biology, science, and actual medicine to study and enjoy.

2015-11-25T09:37:21.210-08:00 The War on Christmas 2015 (They shot first!) Once again it's that time of year. The air is getting cooler, the leaves are changing color, the days are getting shorter, and there are already battle cries about a war on Christmas. Recently, in a viral video, YouTube evangelist Joshua Feuerstein went on a tirade about Starbucks. Not that they seem to be everywhere, but instead they didn't put Merry Christmas on their holiday cup. In his video on Facebook, he says that they are taking Christ and Christmas off of their plain red cups and that employees aren't allowed to say Merry Christmas.

They aren't plain red, they do have the companies logo too.

I personally don't recall ever seeing Christ on their cups, but then again, I don't go to Starbucks that often. I'm sure some of their more talented baristas could do it in the foam, if you asked nicely. And as far as I can tell, there aren't any specific rules about their employees not being allowed to tell people Merry Christmas. They may not have said it because It's not even Thanksgiving yet, Dumbass! (The video came out in early November) He then goes to claim that he "tricked" Starbucks by telling them his name was Merry Christmas and getting them to put it on his cup. Ohhh, very sneaky Mr. Feuerstein. No one would ever figure out what you were trying to do.I'm imagining the barista just staring at him, shrugging, and as they write Merry Christmas on his red cup, they think "Whatever weirdo. Halloween is just wrapping up." The video ends with him saying that he knew it would offend Starbucks, so he wore a jesus christ shirt into the store and because they "hate the second amendment", he carried his gun, which he then pulls out and displays to the camera. Even in an open carry state, I think this may have been slightly illegal. His first comment under the video says that he pranked them, and they hate it! In all caps, of course. Then a bunch of posts, and he tries to tag such luminaries as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and The Blaze. Basically, he's being a media whore. Trying to read all the comments, it would seem that a lot of them have been deleted. Gee, I wonder why. Needless to say, this joker has been laughed at and taken apart everywhere he's gone. I've already written about the so-called War on Christmas in the past, and I will admit it wasn't my best post, though it is still one of my most popular. Much like every other year, it is the vocal, right-wing, conservative christians that actually started the War on Christmas by saying there is a War on Christmas. (Historically, the Protestants started it by making it illegal) I have been seeing ads for Christmas sales, gift ideas, decorations, and recipes since before Halloween. So, 3 months of Christmas noise, and as soon as 1 business doesn't have something that is representative of their ideals on their merchandise, all hell breaks loose. Luckily, most of the claims this year have been laughable and fairly pathetic, but I am going to imagine that as the holiday gets closer, they'll get more and more vocal and determined. Personally, I feel that all this noise these folks make about how the liberal atheist LGBT commie agenda is going to destroy christmas just shows their fear that the world is becoming more secular , and soon the radical christians may become obsolete.

I know that this was a more rambling post than they have been lately. I just wanted to write a bit about Feuerstein and his latest loud mouthed bit of stupidity. I've seen this guys videos a few times, and I always get angry, wanting to know how anyone can believe these things. This war on christmas bullshit just irks the hell out of me, and trying to put everything into a single coherent post is rather difficult for me. There are so many different angles and subtopics that I would like to approach. The problem is that the research tends to overlap quite a bit and the narrative weaves back and forth a lot. This is a topic that would probably be better suited for a book. I will simply say there is no war on christmas, the Religious Reich are simply over reacting to little things, and I personally enjoy celebrating a secular christmas with my family. I'm going to leave this as a relatively short post. This one is more of a cathartic release than any sort of deeper look into a topic. I'm not sure I would want to look very deep into Feuerstein.

2016-01-25T08:20:13.056-08:00 Skepticism and critical thinking in Oklahoma Oklahoma seems to be known for a few things. Cattle, cowboys, tornadoes, OU, football, James Inhofe, Tom Coburn, Sally Kern, farmers, the bible belt, rodeos, meth labs, and country musicians. And did I mention the tornadoes and meth labs? (there's a movie idea. MethNado! starring Jodie Sweetin, Eddie Van Halen and Ted Haggard) But we have something else in this state. We have some very good skeptics and critical thinkers. Not too bad in a state that regularly is in the news for people doing some really weird shit because of magical thinking. We do have a few notable skeptics that I feel really need to be talked about and get more attention from the larger skeptical community. I can't mention everyone in the skeptical community here in Oklahoma, though I think everyone in all the skeptical, free thought, and critical thinking groups really do deserve more notice than they currently get. So, first of all, to everyone, thank you for fighting the good fight, and if I don't mention you, I am truly sorry. You all deserve more recognition for what you do. Unfortunately, I don't know you all personally, though I would really like to. So if you ever see me in public, come up and say hi. I haven't bitten anyone in weeks now. I am only going to talk a bit about the few I know personally, and hopefully get more people interested in what they do.

Dr. Bryan Farha:

Dr. Farha (better dressed fellow on the right)

Dr. Bryan Farha is the first skeptic I'm going to talk about. He is the professor and director of Applied Behavioral Studies/Counseling at Oklahoma City University (OCU). and slightly notorious with the psychic community. I met him originally when I asked him to come and speak to OSS about his books "Paranormal Claims: A Critical Analysis" and "Pseudoscience and Deception: The Smoke and Mirrors of Paranormal Claims", which you can buy on Amazon, and I highly recommend reading them. He has also written for The Huffington Post and Skeptic Magazine. I had been following his work for years and didn't realize it. He is also notorious for challenging the late Sylvia Browne concerning her acceptance of the James Randi Million Dollar Challenge. She had accepted the challenge, then back down, claiming there was no money. Dr Farha sent a certified letter to her showing the money. She still didn't respond, so when she appeared on the Larry King show, he called in, and he does admit he lied to get through the screeners. When he got to talk to her, he asked her why she still hadn't done the Challenge like she had said she was going to. You can read a bit more about it on Quackwatch.com. He is very personable and funny, and has been willing to help out or answer questions any time I've asked. He was also on a panel during Oklahoma's first skeptical conference. along with 2 other skeptics and 3 believers in various pseudoscience. He has probably been involved in the skeptical community longer than any of the others that I'm going to talk about, but he doesn't really have much of an online presence.

Dr. Caleb Lack:

Dr. Lack presenting at SkeptiOKcon

Dr. Caleb Lack is an author of quite a few books a blogger for the Skeptic Ink Network, and is also an Assistant Professor of Psychology and the Counseling Practicum Coordinator in the Department of Psychology at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), as well as the sponsor for the UCO Skeptics. I met him, much like Dr. Farha, when I asked him to come and speak at a Skeptics in the Pub for OSS. He is an excellent presenter and funny as hell. In terms of his books, Dr. Lack primarily writes about psychological issues and anxiety disorders. You can but them on Amazon as well. His books are written so even a layperson like myself can read them and understand what he is discussing. Dr. Lack has also been very active in the local skeptical community, presenting several talks on research concerning paranormal beliefs, hosting Oklahoma's first skeptical conference, SkeptiOKcon, handing out pamphlets in right before a psychic's show, doing interviews for podcasts, and attending several SiTP's. He also has a pretty good online presence. He has a website, www.caleblack.com, he's occasionally on Twitter @professorlack, and he has a public Facebook page . You can also read his blog, The Great Plains Skeptic on the Skeptic Ink Network, or watch him on YouTube, which has videos of some of his lectures. He has always been willing to give me a hand or answer a question, and has even gone out of his way to help with a certain project I was attempting.

The Blueball Skeptics:

(Not too bad, if I say so myself)
I met both of these fellows at Dr. Lacks presentation for OKSS. They were funny, and very sharp. They can be a bit acerbic at times, but it's mostly meant in good humor. Like everyone else I've already mentioned in this post, I greatly enjoy getting to talk to these guys, and they've been a big help whenever I've had questions or needed help.

Beth, Collin, and Riley:
Finally, I have to mention the three most important skeptics in my life. My wife is the one that actually introduced me to the skeptical community, though at the time it was a misunderstanding on my part. (I know I've told the story already, but it's still funny) She told me about a little podcast called "The Skeptics Guide to the Universe". I thought it was a continuation of the "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy." I listened to them and realized that I wasn't the only person that thought the way I do, and was instantly hooked. Since then she has not only tolerated all my wild and crazy ideas, like starting a scientific skepticism organization in Oklahoma when everything else seemed to be more atheist based, doing the SiTP's, finding speakers, writing this blog, and joining 2 podcasts and starting one of our own (coming soon! Working Title is now "Those Blasted Skeptics!") , but she has actually encouraged me to continue, even when I get so frustrated or depressed (yes, I do deal with depression) that I just want to give up. She has been my base when I need a reality check, and the ice to my inferno when I get pissed about some BS woo that's cropped up. I've known her for nearly 20 years, and she has always been able to keep me in check, which she will probably admit, isn't easy. She is one of the main reasons that The Skeptical Okie even exists. My sons are also important skeptics in my life, though one of them is only a few months old. Collin, the older boy, has already debated with a Bigfoot believer, (ask Caleb if you follow him on Twitter), introduced me at an SiTP, and spoken a bit in front of the crowd. I believe that makes him officially the youngest person to speak at a Skeptics in the Pub. (Our SiTP events aren't held at an actual pub. I live in Oklahoma, so there aren't really such things as English pubs. Ours are held at a restaurant called Picasso Cafe in Oklahoma City) He also has a segment on the upcoming podcast called "5 minutes with Collin". He also encourages me to continue fighting the good fight, and actually reminds me to keep asking questions.

I hope that this demonstrates that Oklahoma doesn't have just the stereotypical gun toting, tobacco chewing, bible thumping, right wing rednecks.

2015-11-09T14:29:22.526-08:00 If vaccines are so safe, why fear the willingly unvaccinated? Okay folks, as seems to be the norm lately, this is going to be based on a Facebook meme that's been making the rounds, showing up in my feed several times a day, and royally pissing me off. This time I held off on making any comments, at least on-line. Especially after I read the comments. I am going to try and paint a picture for you. Imagine, there are 2 women, one wearing a red dress and pointing at the other, who seems mildly surprised. In the upper 1/3 of the image it says "Why would my unvaccinated kids be a threat to your vaccinated kids, if you are so sure vaccines work?" In the bottom 1/3 it says "NaturalNews" Yep. Fucking NaturalNews being used as a source of information to prove that vaccines don't really work. Or at least confirming certain peoples biases. Great. Bloody, flamin' great. I was very tempted to try and clarify that they do work, and have been shown to be effective, but I opted to read the comments first. Then I closed Facebook, got up, and contemplated slamming my head into a tree. Unfortunately, these sorts of sentiments aren't uncommon, though they aren't exactly rare either. The anti-vaccine movement has actually existed since Jenner gave the first smallpox vaccine, so roughly 219 years ago, as of 2015. Or you can go farther back to a process called variolation. There is a fascinating website called "History of vaccines" with an amazing timeline that you can see here. Because the history of vaccines is surprisingly long and detailed, and there is no way I could do it justice, I am not going to really get into it much. However, I am going to talk about how, much like the zombies from "The Walking Dead", we should fear the willingly unvaccinated.


Lets start with a definition, shall we? A vaccine is, according to Dictionary.com, : any preparation used as a preventive inoculation to confer immunity against a specific disease, usually employing an innocuous form of the disease agent, as killed or weakened bacteria or viruses, to stimulate antibody production.

There are also 2 main types of vaccines. The first is called a "Live Attenuated" vaccine. These are created by modifying a living virus into a form that is no longer as virulent. The second form is called an "Inactivated" vaccine. These are created by killing the virus, either by formaldehyde or heat. In either case, the main purpose of a vaccine is to cause a reaction in the body's immune system similar to the actual disease. This causes the creation of antibodies that will recognize the virus in the future and attack it. Neither type of vaccine will have any sort of an effect on bacteria. There are vaccines for most disease causing viruses, with a few notable exceptions. Ebola is one that has received a lot of attention in the past year, though they are fast tracking at least 1 viable vaccine. AIDS, of course, is another, though there is hope that one may developed soon. Vaccines have played an enormous role in not only protecting people from some pretty serious illnesses, but in expanding our life expectancy, reducing infant mortality, and improving our overall quality of life.

A brief look at the anti-vaccer arguments:
Lets take a quick look at some of the arguments that the anti-vaccination crowd often uses as their reasoning for what they believe.
A major talking point for the anti-vaccination crowd are the ingredients in vaccines, namely the MMR (Mumps, Measles, and Rubella). You will often hear them complain about the toxic materials in the shots such as formaldehyde, mercury, the virus itself, and Thimerosal ( a type of mercury). Funny thing is, in the MMR vaccine, it has never had Thimerosal. As a matter of fact, very few vaccines do, or ever have. The FDA has an interesting page on Thimerosal in vaccines, which you can look at here. I really recommend looking at it, it's pretty interesting, and it will give you some facts and figures on various vaccines. The reason that Thimerosal and mercury are the major issues is due to the Wakefield study, which claimed there was a link between autism and vaccinations. This line of thinking has been disproven dozens of times in independent studies, the paper retracted, Wakefield has lost his license to practice medicine because of how he performed the study and basically lying about the results. Yet many people will still claim it's the truth because it confirms their personally held beliefs.
Another argument that you might hear is "Too many, too soon".(I have also seen 2 many 2 soon and two many two soon.) The thinking behind this is that children today are getting too many vaccinations, which in turn leads to a toxic buildup of dangerous chemicals. Once again, wrong. The vaccination schedule is carefully considered by medical professionals before being recommended. I seriously doubt that they aren't going to hold their kids to the same schedule as everyone else. If they thought it was dangerous, they would recommend against it. Simple as that.
And yet another argument is that the diseases are mild, and nothing to be concerned about. This is not only wrong, but dangerous thinking. Measles, Mumps, and Rubella are all 3 dangerous diseases that can easily lead to multiple problems, including encephalitis, miscarriages, sterility in men, and even death. Ironically, Rubella infections while pregnant, may actually be responsible for some cases of autism. Much of this information, I found on the AntiAntiVax site, which has links to their sources. Anecdotally, I will also say that, as someone that has had the measles, I do not want to see anyone suffer through that.
Another oft repeated bit of drivel is that it wasn't vaccinations that reduced or eradicated diseases, it was sanitation. While it's true that sanitation has played a very important role in preventing or limiting the spread of various diseases, it is a minor player when compared to the effect that vaccinations have had. There are areas of the world where sanitation is limited, if not non-existent, and yet diseases are relatively kept in check by vaccinations. There have been multiple cases where the sanitation was adequate, and yet disease outbreaks kept happening. For an example of this, look up Typhoid Mary.A quick synopsis is: Typhoid Mary was a cook for several wealthy families. Generally speaking, the wealthy didn't suffer from many of the more communicable diseases. However, the people that Mary worked for kept catching Typhoid Fever. Turns out she was a carrier for the disease.
There are other arguments that crop up, such as "It's against God's will", and "They aren't natural" or "Diseases are a part of nature", and "They cause cancer" and so on. The ones I mentioned above are the primary Big Four that you will probably hear most often.

Why to fear the willingly unvaccinated
There are a few reasons why you should fear the unvaccinated. It's not because you think that unvaccinated kids might get your vaccinated kid sick. Nor is it because you have any doubts about the efficacy of vaccinations. These are horrible misrepresentations of the true reasons that people should, at the very least, be wary of the willingly unvaccinated. The first one is because of the people that are unable to be vaccinated. By this, I mean folks that are already immunocompromised, are allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine, or are too young to receive the vaccine. These people are at the greatest risk of contracting an illness. The very young, the very old, and the immunocompromised, are also at the greatest risk of dying from any of the vaccine preventable illnesses. All it takes is 1 person that is shedding a virus at a daycare to do some serious damage. There are also entire communities, such as the Amish, that could be wiped out by some of these diseases because, for the most part, they aren't vaccinated either. Their main form of protection is their isolation from society at large. I don't really approve of religious exemptions from vaccinations, but as a single person, there isn't much I can do.
A secondary reason to avoid the anti-vaccination crowd is that vaccines do on occasion fail. The failure rate for the MMR vaccine is roughly 2-5%. It's hard to get an exact figure because you don't know it failed until you're exposed and catch the illness. The CDC has some interesting information and figures here. Another reason that they might fail is because the target virus may have mutated or altered in an unforeseen way, such as the flu. While the vaccination may not completely stop you from catching the disease, it can still help mitigate the effects and make it less transmissible to other people. Vaccines may also fail if they are improperly made, if the virus is already established in the bodies cells, and on occasion the maternal antibodies will interfere with the vaccination. Also, there is a slight chance that the vaccine may have become denatured either during storage, or during administration. Even given the reasons a vaccine might fail, the odds are still in your favor if you go ahead and get it.
Finally, there are a couple of little things called The Germ Theory of Disease and Fomite Transmission! As you should hopefully know, the germ theory explains that diseases are caused by microorganisms. Fomite transmission is where a disease is transferred by contaminated equipment, clothing, or any other inanimate object. Anyone, vaccinated or not, can accidentally carry a virus from one location to another. That's one of the things that makes the flu such a bitch for the medical community to try and keep it under control. That, and the fact it changes faster than a politician during an election year. While most viruses can be transferred from location to location, each type has a different habitat in the human body. Some will live in mucus, other in the saliva, and yet others in various bodily fluids. They also have differing amounts of time that they can survive outside of the host body, ranging from mere minutes to years. As you can probably imagine, the unvaccinated crowd will probably have a higher virus load on their clothing and skin, which means that they will have a higher chance of infecting people that they come into contact with.

I could have easily gone into the increase in deaths from vaccine preventable illnesses, the idea of community (or herd) immunity, talk about the diseases eliminated by vaccines (rinderpest and smallpox and almost polio), the problems with religious and personal belief exemptions to vaccinations, or even discuss the Wakefield study and why it was found to be full of errors and misrepresentations. Those have all been done repeatedly by folks that are much more intelligent and better writers than I could ever hope to be. Instead, I've opted to be blunt and say simply fear people that will willingly avoid getting themselves and their children vaccinated. And pity them for their overwhelming fear and mistrust.

2016-01-25T08:13:52.764-08:00 Why we can't win. I normally label articles like this as being an opinion piece. This time I'm not, because it's not really just my opinion. It is unfortunately a fact of life for the critical thinking/scientific skepticism communities, and I believe most of us have known this for years.

I have recently began responding more often to various pseudoscientific and blatantly false claims, such as one I've seen a couple of times recently. (I've been doing this partly because bad information aggravates the hell out of me, and partly because I want people to be able to look at all the information without any sort of fear mongering and come to a conclusion based on the data.) This one in particular reads: "The FDA has changed the name of aspartame to AminoSweet!" First of all, the FDA doesn't name products, they only give guidelines on the labeling. As well, it was one company that is based in Japan that is changing the name, not every manufacturer on the planet. I pointed these two facts out, simply trying to point out the post was false, and try and give anyone that actually reads the comments a starting point to find the real information. Shortly after, the original poster came back with a comment that stated the FDA still allows poisons to be put into our food, and aspertame is a neurotoxin according to FDA investigator Arthur Evangelista (who is a former FDA investigator) I have written about aspartame before, and I am passingly familiar with some of the claims that folks make about it. Especially the neurotoxin claim. I pointed out that water and oxygen, when applied directly to a neuron, will act like a neurotoxin, killing it. The someone else asked to see water and oxygen tumors and posted pictures of the rats used in the highly flawed Seralini GMO/RoundUp study. I asked him what genetic line the rats came from, and he said GM Corn. WHAT THE HONEST FUCK. I asked about the rats and he says GM Corn? I pointed out that the genetic line of rats used in research are going to affect the way the study turns out. If they had used rats designed for diabetic research, the study would have shown drinking RoundUp causes diabetes. "Sorry Mr. Brimley, your diabetes wasn't a genetic issue. You shouldn't have been drinking RoundUp and eating GMOs while filming Cocoon." I pointed out the study that he has decided to use to refute aspartame was highly flawed. I did make an error here and not point out it had nothing to do with the original statement. I was just so surprised by it, and I was in full "learning moment" mode that I tried to show how that was wrong as well. Luckily, there was another member of Oklahoma Skeptics Society reading the thread, and he had good info that he added to the discussion. It basically ended with several statements that I've heard way too often lately concerning a surprisingly wide variety of topics, and I'm going to address them. Unfortunately, these statements demonstrate why critical thought will never completely prevail over superstitious thinking and bad information.

Before I go any farther, I have to mention that this is only the most recent example of a common trend that I have been seeing for a long time.

The first was "Why is it when a "scientist" (I added the quotes because they are rarely dependable or reliable scientists) has a finding that isn't part of the consensus, he's labeled a fear monger?" The simple answer is. because they are. If you have 1 scientist that reports a finding saying a common food or medical treatment is dangerous, sends out press releases before peer review, and they promote their findings, (and alternative products on occasion) and they claim it has very extreme effects, and no other group can reproduce it in any meaningful way, then yes, they are trying to scare people away from something that, at the least isn't harmful and at best is highly beneficial. This is the definition of a fear mongerer. The reason that there is a scientific consensus is because the findings are relatively consistent and can more than likely be trusted as fact. Granted, I am not really a fan of Monsanto, mostly due to their legal practices, but I fully believe that GM products are going to be the major contributor to feeding the planets growing population, especially with climate change altering growing cycles. But once again, the Seralini study had nothing to do with the initial conversation, it was a weird combination of the Gish Gallop and Moving the Goalpost. This entire tactic (invoking bad studies, wild claims about the dangers, and the Gish Gallop Goalpost) are often used by climate change deniers, the anti-vaccine crowd, anti-GMO advocates, creationists, and many other proponents of pseudoscience. Especially the ones that either have some sort of religious or political spin to them. They also tied in a conspiracy theory saying Monsanto is covering up any negative studies. Once again, way the hell off the original topic, which was misinformation about a products name change. Plus I doubt Monsanto has bought off 99% of the agricultural and food scientists. But people that rely on the "rebel scientists" are generally very distrustful of any sort of large establishment, such as governments and international companies. They tend to feel that governments and governmental agencies, such as the FBI, the CIA, the NIH, the FDA, the CDC, and the NWO (I had to throw that one in because a lot of these people believe there is an evil global conspiracy), as well as large companies, will lie and mislead the public for some nefarious purpose. They will think that the one person that works outside of the system and finds something no one else ever has is the only one telling the truth, and if you dispute the claim of the person, you will often be called a shill, a sheeple (damn I really hate that word), or naive. They will also tell you you need to open your eyes and do research. Which happened during the course of the original thread. When I said I do research things, and that is why I wanted to know what genetic line the rats were, and what the protocols used for his study were (which I already knew), the other person quit replying. I have to wonder if he went and actually looked into it a little deeper from sources other than NaturalNews and Mercola, or if he rage quit. My money is on rage quit.

Why do you care what we do?
Another statement that was made during the discourse, and I am paraphrasing, was "Why does it matter if we don't want to eat this stuff? Why do you care what we do? Everyone should be allowed to keep things out their bodies they don't want!" I agree wholeheartedly! If you want to avoid consuming something, by all means, do it. More for me. Especially you have a legitimate reason for avoiding them. Say you have PKU, then yes, you have to avoid aspartame, and for good reason. But just because you're scared of something after visiting some Woo Woo sites, you really shouldn't be posting misleading and false statements purposely designed to scare people into doing the same. The original post was created specifically to invoke a fear response from people that are already wary of big companies, chemicals, and the government. It was set up as a warning that the scary gubberment is letting Big Chemical try and sneak one past the unsuspecting and gullible people. These damn things are the meme equivalent of the guy on the corner with the sign that claims the world is ending soon. They are false, there is no evidence, they often smell a bit funny, they get creepy after a while and seem to follow you around the internet.

I won't believe your "Science"
You want to piss me off, say "You can show me all the studies and science, and I'm still going to believe what I want." This is basically the last thing that was said in the thread, outside of being accused of starting a fight, and me reiterating my initial position (and I actually received a sort of, almost apology) These anti-science sentiments have been getting more and more vocal in the past few years. When you say this, basically what I hear you saying is "I don't care how reality works, I'm going to make up my own thing so I can feel comfortable and justify my life choices to myself." This sort of thinking is the cause of so many problems when it comes to the results from research. Some people won't believe any research unless it jives with their previously held beliefs. Then, anything that disproves that is part of some huge corporate/governmental/military cabal bent on global domination and the complete subjugation of the population. And yes, it does escalate that quickly. The most aggravating part of this type of thinking is that the more evidence you provide, the more that people will dig in and hang on to their beliefs. This is called The BackFire Effect and you can read more about it on The Skeptics Dictionary. These are the type of people that, as critical thinkers, skeptics, humanists, and scientifically literate people, we need to convince the most to look at all the information. Yet, and let's be honest with ourselves, we know that nothing we do will convince them to look at other evidence. You can try and convince them, but as soon as you push a little too hard, suddenly you're a bully, you're hassling them, you're blinded to the truth, etc. If someone presents me with evidence that is contrary to what I feel is a fact, admittedly my first response is to dismiss it. But then I realize that my personal bias' have kicked in, and I will look at their evidence and try to keep an open mind. And my opinion has been changed by doing this. I have rarely seen anyone from the pseudoscience side of things do the same. (And they call skeptics close-minded?)

The best way to deal with a fight you can't win is normally to just walk away before the damage is irreparable. However, we just can't do that here. As several other people have pointed out in the past, skepticism in the intersection of scientific literacy and consumer protection.

We can't just say "Screw you guys! I'm going home!" We have to continue the good fight and yes, it is a battle on multiple fronts with various opponents using different tactics. (And yes, I know that the phrasing I'm choosing makes skepticism sound fairly combative, but when peoples lives are at risk, then yes, it is a fight.) Instead of focusing our time and energy on the hardcore, full tilt woo woo bullshit believers that we know are never going to change, let's focus more on the fence sitters and the general public. Let's try and provide good information that people can look into and come to an informed decision themselves. It may not always be the right decision, but at least they will be using all the available information. As a whole, people are sensible, rational creatures that do respond well to facts, and when presented with all the available information, generally they will make an informed choice, politics not included. We also need to work harder to inform the general population on what makes a study good or bad, how to read a scientific paper, and how to properly interpret data for themselves instead of relying on others to do it for them. (Remember when only the clergy could read the bible and the congregations had to rely on the priest to tell them what it meant?) We also need to show people how to distinguish blatant propaganda and scare tactics from factual information. This is why critical thinking and scientific literacy need to be core classes in elementary schools. Until then we will always be dealing with James Randi's "Unsinkable Rubber Duckies"

I didn't reply to the initial Facebook post to be a self righteous dick. I simply intended to put accurate information out to help people make an informed decision. Of course, by the end, I seemed to be the bad guy for attacking their beliefs, though that was never my intention. I just have an issue when people seem to rely on Facebook memes to make decisions concerning their health and nutrition.

Recent Podcast appearance!
This isn't related to the topic but I really wanted to promote it. I am a contributor on a podcast called the Unseen Podcast. It is primarily devoted to astronomy, astrobiology, and space exploration (I have no idea why they let me on, but they did) We recently did our Halloween episode, and I was the host. We had: C-Webb from The Paranormal Skeptic Academy podcast, David Flora from the Blurry Photos podcast, Mike Bohler from The Skeptics Guide to Conspiracy (and he's also a regular contributor on Unseen), and Paul Carr, the main host, and Marsha Barnhart as panelists. We spoke about cryptids, conspiracy theories, evidence, UFOs, played the drinking came created by yours truly, and got really damn silly. If you've ever wondered what I sound like, are a fan of C-Webb, Blurry Photos, or Mike Bohler, you should really check it out. You can find The Unseen Podcast Episode 31 here! Thanks for reading, and hopefully listening to the episode. I am hoping to start my own skeptical podcast, with my wife and son as co-hosts, in the next couple of weeks, though I will still be a regular contributor to both the WOW! Signal podcast and the Unseen Podcast.

2016-01-25T08:12:23.825-08:00 What's the worst that could happen? How about death? How's it going folks? If you've been involved in the skeptical community for any length of time, you'll notice a phrase repeated fairly often. When talking to proponents of almost any form of pseudoscience, at some point, you'll hear them say something along the lines of "What's the worst that could happen?" To be blunt, the worst thing that can happen is almost always death or financial ruin . Everyone can point out the dangers of the anti-vaccer movement and the alt-med crowd. But many other forms of pseudoscience can have dangerous results.

Many people feel that a belief in cryptids is a bit of harmless fun, and can be entertaining. Most of the time, this is true. However, some people have sunk large amounts of money into the search for these supposed unknown creatures. They buy the latest and greatest pieces of equipment (that they don't always fully understand how to use properly), rent or buy land that they feel have the creatures living there, buy books, movies, go to lectures, and otherwise spend their hard earned money. Granted, it's not normally as bad as other forms of pseudoscience, but there is still a lot of money changing hands. There are also injuries and deaths associated with cryptids, especially Bigfoot. From CNN.com, there is the story of the poor man that was trying to hoax people with a Bigfoot costume and was hit by a car and killed. From HuffPo comes a story out of Oklahoma. A man was shot during a Bigfoot hunt, and 3 people were arrested. Of course, they have been a great many injuries suffered by folks looking for various cryptids. Falls, burns, cuts, scrapes, broken bones, and so on, though these are also injuries that anyone can get while hiking and camping, so they aren't really unusual.

Ghosts are another flavor of pseudoscience that is often thought of as being safe and harmless. Much like the cryptid hunters, they tend to buy a lot of equipment (that, once again, they don't often know how to use). They also buy books, go to lectures, and travel long distances to visit supposedly haunted locations. And much like looking for cryptids, it can be dangerous. They often go into dilapidated buildings, run around in the dark, and generally scare the hell out of themselves. From CNN.com, there is a story of a group of ghost hunters investigating a 119 year old train crash and 2 were killed. From WeekInWeird.com comes the story of a group of ghost hunters that burnt down a historic plantation in Louisiana. There are a lot of stories of ghost hunters being shot at, injured, or killed on a site called Theoccultsection.com.

Going to a psychic or a medium is just a bit of harmless fun, right? Not quite. There are dozens of stories about so-called psychics being arrested for fraud. On HuffPo, there are several links to stories of these folks being arrested. From the NYPost site, they have a story of a man being taken for $700k after his girlfriend died. And yet another story from the Skeptics Guide of a poor fellow being taken for a lot of money to remove a "love curse". When it comes to bodily harm and death caused by people going to a psychics instead of an actual medical professional, the CDC and the WHO don't really keep records. However, there are quite a few stories about folks being injured because they heeded the advice of a psychic. The problem with trying to Google these events is that they get buried under dozens of positive results concerning these hucksters. Most skeptical websites, such as Sciencebasedmedicine.org and the Neruologica Blog, will have stories about people being hurt by psychic advise.

Of course, there is the anti-vaccination group. These are the people that will claim that vaccinations can cause autism, cancer, neurological damage, and pretty much any other sort of illness you can imagine. The people that promote the anti-vaccination message are normally the same people that push all the varieties of alt-med B.S. There can be a financial deficit from believing the anti-vaccers, mostly from trying to treat an easily preventable disease. This is definitely a case of an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The treatments of preventable diseases are normally many times more expensive than the vaccinations. From the CDC, there are a lot of numbers concerning people being hospitalized or dying for vaccine preventable diseases. Of course, there is the infamous Jenny McCarthy Body Count site. You can also look at the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) for even more numbers. This is one of the most dangerous forms of pseudoscience that is out there. Not only is it dangerous to the people that practice it, but it is actually dangerous to everyone around them, especially the very young, the old, and the immuno-compromised.

And of course there is homeopathy, naturopathy, acupuncture, crystal healing, and other alt-med treatments. There are so many stories of people spending their life savings on alt-med treatments that I'm not even going to try and link to the stories. There are also a ton of stories that demonstrate the physical dangers of trusting in these quacks. What a lot of these alt-med practitioners either won't tell you or they don't know is that there can be dangerous drug interactions between actual medicine and their so-called treatments. On Tim Farley's What's the Harm site, he lists not only the number of people that have either died or been injured by naturopathy, but also has economic damage listed for naturopathy, homeopathy, acupuncture, and other pseudosciences.

As I said in the beginning, the simple answer to "What's the worst that could happen?" is death. It's almost always death. Putting your trust in any sort of pseudoscience, especially when it comes to a persons health, is a dangerous proposition. I know that anything I write or say is not going to convince the hard core true believers. But hopefully, if anyone is undecided, some of this will at least get you to do a bit of research yourself. And also make sure that you validate the sites you're looking at. There are a lot of them that are just fear mongering sites. They have their own products they are trying to sell, and will attempt to scare you away from actual science in order to make a few bucks. Even though they aren't infallible, the CDC and the WHO are trustworthy sources. They have no financial gains from saying something does or doesn't work. They are simply trying to get the best and most accurate information out there.

2016-01-25T08:07:17.393-08:00 Essential Oils cure everything? Only if it stinks. Ok folks, it's time for another post about something that has been increasing in popularity over the last few years. I have been seeing more and more posts and articles about the healing power of essential oils. I've heard people say that they can help with everything from asthma and sleep apnea to helping with skin conditions and curing cancer. As the hosts of the Sawbones Podcast say, cure-alls cure nothing.So, as usual, I'll start with what essential oils actually are. I am going to say now that the research for this topic was not easy. Almost every search result took me to a lot of naturopathic and alt-med websites. I had to sort through a bunch of bullshit to try and find even a kernel of unbiased truth. There is a lot of misinformation or mis-interpretation in a lot of alt-med, and essential oils are no different.

What are essential oils?:

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, essential oils are defined as:

an oil that comes from a plant, that smells like the plant it comes from, and that is used in perfumes and flavorings

Essential oils are volatile compounds that quickly disperse throughout the medium they are used in. They are the basic component of most air fresheners, colognes and perfumes, and are very useful in baking. They are normally produced by extracting and concentrating the oils of various plants. Almost every plant has an oil component which can be extracted. As I said, some of these, such as peppermint oil, are useful in cooking and baking as they greatly enhance the flavor of the item. They a large part of any sort of odor based item you use everyday, and they are the major component of aromatherapy.

2015-09-27T19:21:43.758-07:00 Polly wants a psychic reading? Yep, I fell off the wagon again. I know it's been a bit since the last post, and I'm going to promise no more promises about keep a regular publishing schedule. My life is currently too chaotic for such promises, and I really hate breaking my word. So, I will put out new material as often as I can.

Today, I'm wanting to discuss a really niche area of pseudoscience that manages to combine a lot of New Age ideas with the medium and spiritualism. And they use the same tactics that most psychics and mediums use combined with the love most people have for their pets. Yep, that's right.

Animal communicators are a special breed of Woo peddlers. These are people that claim they are able to talk to animals, sort of like Dr. Doolittle. They "help" find missing animals, "treat" illnesses, offer counseling and speak to the dead, much like psychics and mediums. I'm going to speak in generalities, and not get too in depth. Every communicator is different, and they all have their own twists on what they do.

Animal communicators tend to use a lot of the same tactics as the psychic crowd, such as cold reading, hot reading, blatant information gathering, and so on. Quite a few also advertise themselves as animal psychics. Most of the time, these people will visit the owner in the owners house. They can normally gain a lot of information just by being there. The sort of person that would utilize an animal communicator is the same type that will have many pictures of their pets on the wall, on tables, etc. Just by looking at the pictures, the A.C. gain get a rough idea of how long they've had the animal, activities they do with it, and places that the animal has been. They will begin to make a series of broad statements about the animal, in the hopes of narrowing down the field until they can piece together a story. These are decent multipurpose methods that work in a variety of circumstances. Combine the "reading" with the fact that people are more apt to remember the hits and forget the misses, and you have a fairly convincing psychic event.

Personal note: I am currently writing another entry on psychics, so a lot of the tricks of the trade will be discussed more thoroughly in that post.

Lost Animals:
Often, Animal Communicators will be hired to help find a lost animal. People that are desperate to find a lost pet are often frustrated that the police or animal welfare don't seem to be doing much for their case. Unfortunately, these groups are often under staffed and have so many more critical calls that lost animals are often disregarded. So, they turn to anyone they think can help. In comes the Animal Communicator. Much like psychics that claim they help the police to find lost and missing people, the A.C. will make some broad statements that could apply to a lot of animals. However, they do have an advantage in this line of work, especially if they are actually familiar with animal behavior. Unlike most people, animals are creatures of instinct and habit. Some of the most common reasons an animal runs off is due to a female in heat nearby, a smaller animal running by, an unfamiliar animal in the area, a change in the owners habits, or even moving to a new location. Also, many animals are scared by loud noises, so the Fourth of July, New Years Eve, or any other holiday involving fireworks can spook them. So can a particularly loud thunderstorm. The A.C. will then extrapolate possible locations the animal might have gone, and make relatively vague references to them. If the customers are able to find the animal, then it's a win. If they can't, it's still a win for the A.C. because they can simply say the animal has moved on, found a new family, or has left their area of influence.

Dead Animals:
Much like psychics that deal with humans only, some of the A.C.s are basically emotional vampires. A person that has lost a beloved pet will go to a pet psychic for closure. They will often go to the owners house. Like I said earlier, the type of person that would seek out this type of service will often have a lot of pictures of them and their pet. The A.C. can use the images, and any other information they can glean from the owner to weave into a very pleasing narrative about heaven, a rainbow bridge, and any other platitudes that will make the customer happy. Once again, they operate much like other psychics, except they are talking to Fluffy instead of Aunt Frannie.

Sick Animals or Poor Behavior:
Often, when animals are ill, they will have behavior changes. If an A.C. is consulted, they will often come to the home and perform a reading on the animal, or they'll offer to do one over the phone. Or you can bring them a picture or something that belongs to the animal. They often start with something along the lines of "Spot is unhappy" Then, using many of the different cold reading tricks, they will then proceed to diagnose the animal. They may say that something doesn't feel right, or that the animal is acting out because of something the owner has or hasn't done. They may prescribe taking the animal to a vet, or an alt med practitioner. They may also suggest changing the furniture around, taking the animal for walks, changing the diet, or other common fixes for behavior problems. Once again, if it works, then it's a win. If it doesn't, then the communicator will invent another problem. Or say that they have fixed the problem, just on a spiritual level, or some other unfalsifiable claim. They also take advantage of the Clever Hans Effect and a form of the Placebo Effect. The Clever Hans Effect is where the animal is reacting to cues that the owner is unaware they are making. I have written more on this in my Homeopathy and the Hound post. The form of the Placebo Effect is where the owners either believe that the animal is feeling or acting better, or they feel better for trying to help. Either way, they are neglecting the fact that illness and behaviors wax and wane. So, after a visit from one of these animal psychics, the problem may naturally improve, at least for a while.

Other Aspects:
There are a lot of similarities between the various animal communicators and psychics. During the course of the reading, many of them will describe what the animals "voice" sounds like, i.e. gruff, high pitched, elegant, deep, and so on. They may also describe the animal as having an accent. They also charge quite a bit for their services. I have seen prices ranging from $100-$1200 for a single appointment. They also very rarely say anything negative. There is never "Tiger says it's hot and he's being bitten by dogs" or "Rex is acting up because he really doesn't like you" or a discussion of the owners personal habits.They are always able to spin a relatively happy tale for the customer. There really isn't a lot of difference between animal communicators and other psychics. The only major difference is that the subject of the reading can't say whether they are correct or not.

There is absolutely no evidence that there is any form of psychic abilities, so it is very doubtful that these people are capable of performing the feats that they are claiming. There may be people that think they can hear animals speaking to them and choose to try and help the animals. They more than likely have a psychological issue, rather than a psychic ability. Most people that claim they can speak to animals are just exploiting a very unique market to make some money. I personally feel that anyone that claims to be able to communicate with your animals, living or dead, is just a fraud out to make a buck.

Until next time, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure to remember the milk.

2016-01-25T08:06:09.119-08:00 Letting the other side of reality talk. (Opinion) Before you get too far into this post, I'm going to warn you ahead of time that it is largely my opinion on the matter, and in no way reflects anyone else's views. I have started to put (Opinion) in the titles if the post is in fact an opinion piece and contains very little research. This is so that people that read my posts for the research I put into it don't feel cheated when reading an opinion piece, and the maybe 1 person that reads these because they are interested in my thoughts.

I have been hearing the murmurs about giving both sides of an issue equal time and press, so that people can have a chance to make an informed decision. ( I largely feel that the increased pressure for equal time is due to the up coming presidential race debacle) In some issues, I completely agree. Give all the candidates equal time to make the promises they know they can't keep. Let companies have equal amounts of commercial time to make their claims about how their products can improve your life. This is fine. This is republican democracy and capitalism at work.

When it comes to the science vs pseudoscience arena however, I don't think that the quacks, hucksters, and other bullshitters should have an equal amount of time to try and convince people that their particular flavor of pseudoscience works. Granted, I do think that it is important to listen to the believers to try and learn how and why they think that crystal healing, reiki, or homeopathy works. I also know that it is important to review and check anyone's evidence, both scientists and pseudoscientists. But to give a homeopath, or any other promoter of pseudoscience an equal, or greater amount of exposure is a detriment to society, as well as being intellectually dishonest.

For decades, these alternative treatments, quantum whatevers, and ancient or all natural products have often been shown to be at least less effective than actual medicines and treatments, if not more dangerous, especially when mixed with actual medicine. Not just experimentally, but in actual instances outside of the lab. Unfortunately, you often hear about someone forgoing medical treatment and trying some type of alternative medicine, and paying the price, not just financially, but with their health, and sometimes their life. And yet, the stories that make it into the media outlets are the "miracle cures" and "mysterious recoveries" that "have doctors baffled". BULLSHIT! The only doctors that might be baffled by these occurrences are the people that are promoting this crap, and their bafflement comes from the fact that it looks like their treatment worked. This is a tactic often used in the media, as well as with the alt med crowd. It makes the article more interesting, and casts doubt on the entire medical establishment. However, you will never hear them admit that sometimes diseases will spontaneously go into remission, regardless of the type of treatment that the patient was receiving. You also never see them talking to actual medical experts to find out if they are actually baffled or if it's just a bit of media hyperbole.

There are websites, magazines, and television shows that seem to go out of their way to not just denigrate science and actual medicine, but to make people frightened of it. Which in turn drives up sales of their products. I am not saying that every single person that promotes some form of pseudoscience is just doing it for the money. There are a few that actually believe that they are helping people by offering alternatives, though these are far and few between. Most of them have their own things to sell and view everyone else as competition. They will even invent problems that don't actually exist in order to create a demand for something no one thought they needed. All that they manage to do is cause people to believe that scientists have no idea what they are doing, or that they are hiding something. Of course the fact that actual science can be revised or proven wrong while pseudoscience rarely changes adds to that, and the snake oil promoters use that fact also, which in turn gets them more publicity.

Basically, what I have been trying to say through my little rant here is that the pseudoscientists should never be given equal representation to scientists, especially in the media. All this does is muddy what may already be complicated issues, and it gives them a legitimacy that they neither have, nor deserve. If there is anyone associated with the media that reads this, I do have a couple of suggestions. The first is give both sides time equal to the amount of reliable evidence. Not anecdotal, not customer testimonials, not arguments from antiquity or the naturalistic fallacy, or arguments from popularity. Whoever has the most reliably reproducible results from actual testing should get the lions share of media time. I sure as hell don't mean all the "clinically tested" claims that you often see on a variety of WOO based products either. All that means is that they were tested, possibly in-house, and it doesn't say anything about the efficacy of the item. A second suggestion is, if you do a story on some form of pseudoscience, and are looking for balance, don't just give the expert or the skeptic a 5 second sound bite at the end. This doesn't help anything, because people have already heard what they want to, and have stopped paying attention.(I'm looking at you History Channel, Animal Planet, and Dr. Oz!) You can also start with a disclaimer saying that the following story or statements has yet to be scientifically verified.

With that being said, I would also like to say that it important as a critical thinker, science advocate, skeptic, rationalist, or however else you would like to be labeled, or have labeled yourself, to actually listen to the believers of pseudoscience. This can help you understand why they believe what they do, and possibly give you a way to show them other evidence for a more rational explanation. Not to humiliate or belittle them, but to show them that there are other possibilities that are much more likely. I am also not saying that the pseudoscience crowd can't express their opinions and views. They just need to be aware that when they do, there will be those that demand evidence and have the knowledge and ability to refute their claims.

2016-01-25T08:05:29.311-08:00 UFO's for the beginning skeptic First off, to the loyal readers, sorry for falling off the wagon for a while. I know I said that I was going to try and publish posts more often and regularly, but unfortunately, once again, life got in the way. Partly due to work, partly personal life with a new baby. So, enough about me and on to what you're here for.

Today's topic is another one I've wanted to write about for a while.UFO's are not something I talk about often. Not because I'm not interested, believe me, I am. I watch almost all of the ancient alien, UFO conspiracy shows on T.V., and I work with a few people that believe aliens have visited (not the same aliens that the Republicans are bitching about). The reason I don't often discuss them is because it's rather hard to figure out a starting point. Do I start, much like the Ancient Alien crowd, with cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphics, and the Indian Vedas? Or do I start with Barney and Betty Hill in 1961? Or perhaps Roswell in 1947? I think I should start with describing a UFO.

To start, UFO simply stands for Unidentified Flying Object. There are an incredible variety of phenomenon that have received the title UFO. Strange lights in the sky, odd objects that are caught on video, strange noises, airborne objects that aren't readily identified, and on and on. Most people in the UFO believers camp think that all of these are, in some form, controlled by an alien intelligence. There are a few that will make the claim that these objects are from the future and being driven by humans. I will grant that there are actually UFO's in that there are occasionally flying objects that are unidentified. The likelihood that these are some sort of extraterrestrial craft is minimal.

Before I get any farther, I am going to say now that I am not going to discuss any specific UFO cases in great detail in this post. If there is a particular case you'd like me to take a look at, email me at [email protected] and give me the details.

*Note on the types: There are a lot of descriptions of UFO's. Some of these are singularly unique, while there might be many sightings that the descriptions are very similar. I am going to attempt to group them, much like my cryptids post, into similar descriptions. Part of the problem with this is that some may fit into several categories while some may not fit into any category very well. I am also going to try and include a more naturalistic explanation for these phenomenon in the category, instead of doing an overall conclusion.

These are quite likely the most common of sightings. These are normally sudden lights, usually seen at night, that reportedly act in an odd manner. They might change directions erratically or suddenly, They may also appear to accelerate, raise, lower, stop, hover, flicker, waver, or disappear altogether. The colors can vary, though white, yellow and blue seem to be the most popular. There are occasions of odd lights being reported during the day as well, though those are much rarer.There are several different things that may cause these phenomena . One possible cause your standard run of the mill aircraft. All aircraft have multiple lights on their wings and under-carriages, as well as the tail. If you're looking at them at a slightly odd angle, you may only see one or two. If the plane banks or turns, it can give the appearance that the lights are moving at speeds much faster than what a "normal" aircraft can achieve . Plus, as the plane continues to bank, rise, or fall, the lights may suddenly disappear as they are hidden by the planes body. Basically, it's an optical illusion. Another possible cause are flares or fireworks. Some are designed to suddenly ignite after a certain amount of time, and then just disappear, or they could be faulty and not work properly. Another possible cause, which I have recently learned about, is temperature inversion, also known as Fata Morgana, which is basically a mirage. And you can never forget that the sighting may be a trick or a hoax.

There are a lot of reports that seem to make a mention of a "cigar shaped craft". These seem to apply to any sort of tubular or cylindrical shapes objects. Like many sightings of strange objects or creatures, the colors, sizes, and all other pertinent details vary widely. Some of these only seen when someone is reviewing previously shot film. Others are seen during the day, in the open, and by groups. These can be harder to determine their actual cause. Once again, they may be some form of aircraft, seen at an odd angle or elevation. They may be the result of someone perpetuating a hoax. They could be a model rocket or airplane being flown by a hobbyist. The ones that are only seen by carefully reviewing the film are most likely insects. ( I have never seen an example of these during the winter) Experimental aircraft also could be a likely explanation. They could also be birds that the witness is unfamiliar with. Another possible explanation are balloons. You can have a balloon made into nearly any shape or size. These more naturalistic explanations don't explain all the sightings, and some are legitimately unknown.

These have become more common in recent history. They are often described as being large, black, and moving in a manner that is not possible for any known aircraft. These are very interesting to me, as I can only come up with a few possible explanations. The first one that comes to mind is misidentifying known aircraft, such as the flying wing. Once again, experimental aircraft are possible, as are gliders and hang gliders. Drones, model airplanes, other types of toys (yes, those are toys. Just really expensive toys) are entirely probable. And much like any other type of sighting, hallucinations are always a possibility.

Of course, I can't leave out the classic "flying saucer" type of UFO sighting. These are the classic type of craft like you would see in a 50's or 60's science fiction movie. They sort of look like an inverted bowl on top of a plate. The term was coined in 1947 by Kenneth Arnold. You will rarely hear a report of an actual flying saucer these days. Most of the original sightings were most likely hoaxes, either for fun or profit. There is some variation is the details of the crafts, but all in all, they have the same basic plan. Basically, think of Marvin the Martians ship from the old Warner Brothers cartoons. These are pretty simple to build, and still fairly easy to produce flying saucer images and video.

I will admit that I have not covered every type of UFO sighting and reported vehicle. There is just way to many minute variations and alterations to include everything. As well, as interesting as the topic is, the likelihood that our small blue dot of a planet is being visited by highly advanced beings is so improbable that it is hard to take any of this seriously. Trying to research UFO's and UFO sightings sends you down so many rabbit holes that piecing together any sort of coherent dialogue requires much more time than I am able to afford to it.

Things to consider:
There are several factors to keep in mind when hearing about, or reading about UFO reports. You will often hear witnesses say that the objects do things that no known aircraft can. One problem with this statement is that modern aircraft can often perform maneuvers that seem unbelievable, and very few people are familiar with every model of aircraft. Not to mention that every government is constantly working on new types of aircraft. Also, there is the problem of mistaken perspective. An airborne object may be farther away than you think it is, as well as larger or smaller. In the air, there are very few objects that can give you a dependable frame of reference for the size. As well, there is always the chance that someone is simply faking either the object or the report, possibly for fun, or to make money and garner attention. Of course, they could also be a normal object in a strange or unexpected context. You will also hear many members of the UFO believer community say that the witness is a pilot, police officer, doctor, teacher, or some other pillar of society. They will say that these people, especially military, police, and pilots are trained to observe things. While that may be true, they are still human ( unless the illuminati have replaced them all with robots or lizard people ), and humans are not infallible. Even I made a mistake once :).Many of these witnesses may be in a heightened state of stress, which in turn can cause them to hallucinate or misidentify things around them. Not to say that they are lying, but that they are misremembering or misinterpreting information. And of course, there is always the chance that every once in a great while, there is an actual alien intelligence piloting one of the objects that have been seen. But before you conclude that you have actually seen ALF flying by on his way back to Melmac, remember that you have to disprove the more naturalistic probabilities first.

If you have a question, comment, or request, you can leave a comment here. Please do, I'd like some internet company. Until next time, Be Good, Be Skeptical, and Be sure to set your clocks back an hour.

2016-01-25T08:04:08.783-08:00 Cryptids for the beginning skeptic Hello Folks. It looks like, for now, I'm keeping a regular schedule on the posts. I'm as surprised as you are.I felt it was time for another edition of my world famous "Woo for the beginning skeptic" articles. Today, I'm going to discuss one that I have had an interest in for many years. We're talking cryptids, also known as monsters or unknown animals. Before you roll your eyes and say "Cryptids are stupid. There is no reason any self respecting critical thinker should waste their time on them.", just keep reading. Not only are they interesting in their own right, but many times, they are what initially brought people into skepticism and critical thinking. Just look at Blake Smith and Daniel Loxton. Both are well respected members of the skeptical community. (Blake hosts the Monster Talk podcast and Daniel is the author and illustrator of Junior Skeptic in the back of Skeptic magazine, as well as the Tales of Prehistoric Life trilogy and Abominable Science.) Both of them came to critical thinking via cryptids. Now for the main feature.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a cryptid is "An animal whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated, such as the yeti" Therefore cryptozoology is the study of unknown animals. It comes from the Greek word Krypto (also the name of Superman's dog) which means "hide". So basically, it's an animal that people can't find, but as soon as someone legitimately finds one, it can no longer be considered a cryptid.

Throughout human history, we have always told stories about fantastic creatures, You have Enkidu and Humbaba from the Epic of Gilgamesh. You have Grendel from Beowulf. You have the gods in corporeal form in pretty much every culture. The Leviathan in the bible would count as a cryptid. There have always been stories of sea monsters and river creatures. Of course, there is the Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, Bigfoot, Bat-Boy, Chupacabra, Leprechauns, and MothMan. People have always used mysterious creatures either as a way to explain a natural phenomenon or as a way to make people behave. An example of the former is saying that some large unknown creature creates whirlpools that pull down ships. An example of the later would be that a vicious animal lives in the woods, so you kids shouldn't go in them, lest you get killed by it. Today, a lot of the stories seem to be driven by an honest curiosity mixed with either a poor or misguided understanding of science, or wanting to make a few bucks off of a costume full of roadkill. I know that this is an extremely short history of cryptids, but just going back to Gilgamesh, that's around 4000 years of monsters. That's not including some of the possible stories that were told around the fires of our hunter/gatherer ancestors. One of the most amazing things about this is that people still report some of the same creatures that their ancestors did thousands of years ago.

The Cast:
I honestly had a hard time trying to decide where to start. Should I go chronologically, geographically, culturally, type, or just do it randomly? I'm going to try and break down the huge variety of cryptids by their type. There are serpents, humanoids, avian, and some that seem to be an amalgamation of several other animals rather than a single type, more like a chimera that any single animal. I'm not going to list all of the various cryptids, there are way too many. Each type could be an individual in depth article, let alone all of the various cryptids that people have claimed to exist. These creatures are as varied as the cultures they sprang from. Also, areas that are relatively close to one another may have different names for the same thing, or the same name for very different creatures. As well, I'm not going to include aliens, ghosts, or demons. These will probably have their own write-up sometime in the future. So, to get started lets see who the cast of players are.

Humanoid: This group is possibly one of the most diverse, as well as the one of the oldest. Enkidu from the Epic of Gilgamesh was a wild hairy man. Included in this group, you also have Yeti, Bigfoot, the Kappa, the Orang Pendek, reptilian humanoids, Mothman, GoatMan, and so on. Odds are, if man is in the name, it's probably a humanoid cryptids. Most of these creatures have a generally human appearance in that they walk upright, have 2 arms, with the exception of Mothman who has a pair of wings, 2 legs, though not always human legs, a torso, and a head. Some are covered in hair, others have scales or smooth skin. Most of these are probably misidentified native wildlife such as a bear or an owl in a tree. A sandhill crane is a common explanation for Mothman. Sometimes, they are possibly just people out trying to pull a prank. As I said, these seem to be some of the most common creatures that get reported. A major problem with the existence of these creatures is that the locations they have been reported in are fairly well explored, and most of the native fauna are well known, with the exception of the Orang Pendek in Sumatra and the Yeti in the Himalayas.

Sea Serpents: Some of the proud members of this group include Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, Champ, the Lake Champlain Monster, The Kraken, and all those cool looking monsters on ancient maps. When looking at Nessie and Champ, you have to consider their size and the habitat they supposedly inhabit. Even Loch Ness couldn't support a breeding population of very large creatures. There simply isn't enough room or food. And for being a plesiosaur, their respective bodies of water were actually under glaciers when plesiosaurs were alive. Now for the actual sea serpents.Out of all the cryptids, I think that an unknown, large deep sea creature would be the most plausible. (coelacanth or the mega-mouth shark anyone?)There is still a lot of the oceans we haven't explored, and unlike a terrestrial creature, there isn't as much of a hindrance in their movement. Instead of being locked into a specific location, it is much easier for an aquatic animal to travel. That being said, I really think that most reports of sea serpents are previously known animals. Most of the time, these are possibly misidentified animals such as the oarfish, big-mouth shark, or the giant squid. And of course, there are the dead, bloated, and decaying carcasses that occasionally wash up on shore, which spur reports of "Dead Sea Serpent Found Washed Up On Local Beach." I have seen pictures of a variety of animals, ranging from oarfish to sharks and from raccoons to half eaten tuna being portrayed by the media as some sort of unknown sea monster. At some point, a marine biologist will say what the carcass belongs to, but by that time, the media is off to the races on the next fear inducing headline.

Avian: These are pretty odd, and very interesting at the same time. You have creatures like the Thunder Bird of Native American lore, the Roc from the Middle East, and stories of pterasaurs surviving into the modern era. Mothman could have possibly fit into this category, but I felt he (or is it a she?) is more humanoid in appearance. There are also stories of extremely large bats and bat-like creatures in various parts of the world, and I feel that they would probably fit into this category the most. There was a bird called the Elephant Bird, which like an emu, an ostrich, a moa, or a cassowary, was a large flightless bird, Of course there are legends about this creature also. Looking at present day reports of large avian creatures, I am of the opinion that most are, once again, misidentified. Some birds, especially the raptors, can get pretty damn big. Have you ever seen a great horned owl? Huge bird. Vultures or condors? Very big birds. Many time, when people are reporting that they've seen something like a Thunder Bird (not the car), they are looking up and see a bird shape in the sky, which makes determining the size very difficult. Or they see it flying by tree, in front of trees, or over the tops of trees. Once again, people normally aren't very good at recognizing when one object is directly over another, which makes trying to determine size or speed difficult. Plus, if there were super large creatures flying around, with all the flights that go on everyday, don't you think someone would have hit one with a plane by now? (I think that the "If it existed, wouldn't someone have hit/killed one by now" argument is a valid one. There are so many vehicles moving on the planet now that surely, someone would have struck some of these creatures.)

Animalistic: I am making this category to lump a lot of cryptids together. These would be animals that, in general, look like other animals. The main difference would be in their size, aggression, or intelligence. I am also going to include animals that are supposed to be extinct, and have somehow survived. Alligators or crocodiles in the sewers, which are supposed to be larger and more aggressive than other crocodilians, would be a good example, Large aggressive swine, Dire Wolves, 50 foot snakes, and wooly mammoths are all good examples. So is the infamous chupacabra. Often, these seem to be animals with greatly inflated dimensions, sometimes well beyond what biology says they could ever be. Sometimes, they are real, abnormally large animals, but not to the size that the witnesses make them out to be. For fun, just google Hogzilla. With the reports of a wooly mammoth roaming the Russian tundra, those are normally hoaxes, plain and simple. and not even good ones. The chupacabra is an interesting beast. Ben Radford actually managed to trace it back to the first report in Puerto Rico in his book "Tracking the Chupacabra: The Vampire Beast in Fact, Fiction, and Folklore".The interesting thing about this creature is that the description of it has changed drastically. Originally, it was bipedal, more reptilian, and had glowing red eyes. (Why the hell do so many of these creatures have glowing red eyes? That's going to be the name of my book!) Since coming to the U.S., it has changed into a quadrapedal animal with almost scaly skin, and may or may not have small tufts of hair. They are also unique in that specimens have actually been caught! At least animals that people claim are chupacabras. They almost always end up being a raccoon, a dog, or some other animal that is suffering from an advanced case of mange. I say almost because there have been a few captured that no one has ever been allowed to do any sort of analysis on the poor creature. The animals in this category either do exist, or have at one point existed. For the extant animals, their size isn't as great as the witness reports would have you believe. For the extinct animals, they are either another case of misidentification or a hoax. And in the case of the chupacabra, it is a real animal, at least in the U.S., but not only is it a case of mistaken identity, but the poor critter is suffering.

The Fae: These are the fairies of old. Leprechauns, fairies, banshee, and many of the other supernatural monsters from old legends would fall into this category. The reason that I'm even mentioning them is that there are still occasional reported sightings. Think of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Cottingley Fairies.

Chimeras: These are the hodge-podges of the cryptid kingdom. These creatures are normally described as having attributes from several different animals. Some of the more famous ones would be the Sphinx, the Manticore, the Griffin, the Chimera, you get the idea. The reason that I've decided to include these types is that they are the grand-daddies of all the cryptids that we have today. These are the original monsters that people told stories about. And there is, once in a great while, a report of one of these beasts, Most likely, these are either hoaxes or someone wanting a bit of attention.

Oddballs: There are a lot of creatures that really don't fit into a category. That or else I would have to spend a lot more time sub-dividing and sorting everything out. Some examples of these would be the Mongolian Death Worm, Inkanyamba, and Mokele Mbembe. These are, like so many other cryptids, culturally based. They are most likely related to legends that have been told in the areas for untold years. Given the range of their abilities, and the characteristics of these creatures, it is once again, highly unlikely that they actually exist.

Even though every culture, region, and religion has at least one story of fantastic creatures, with a little critical thinking, it is fairly easy to demonstrate how doubtful it is that they are real. Most of these are probably the result of a combination of humans being natural storytellers and pareidolia. As I said at the start, these monsters can be an easy way to begin talking to someone about critical thinking. If they believe strongly in some form of pseudoscience, such as naturopathy, homeopathy, vaccine denial, or climate change denial, you can use a discussion about cryptids to show them how to look at evidence. It's also a great way to introduce kids to critical thinking and skepticism. As a matter of fact, I am reading "In Search of Sasquatch" to my son right now. We are going to go through the book and look at what the author presents as evidence. Should be interesting.

You would think that with all the people walking around in the woods, someone would have found one by now. Seriously, and 8 foot tall hairy creature in the United States? In New Guinea, they found a frog that is .3 inches (7.7 mm for the metric crowd)

Drug-Resistant "Super Heartworms" Force Change In Treatment - pets

2017-06-28T21:19:25.791-04:00 ABC TV Cancels Downward Dog Show

2017-03-30T21:24:36.645-04:00 New Developments on the Sage Smith Case Today (3/30/17), the Daily Progress reports that THREE MONTHS AGO the Charlottesville Police Department classified Sage Smith's disappearance as a homicide. Why was this not announced by the Charlottesville Police Department in December when they reclassified the case as a homicide investigation?

I can only speculate that the reason this has happened after four long agonizing years for Sage's family is that it was because she was a transgender woman, not a U.Va. coed who went missing. Remember all the resources poured into the cased of two U.Va. women who went missing? Perhaps their lives were more valuable because they came from wealthy families that attended a prestigious university, not some poor transgender woman of approximately the same age demographic as the missing U.Va. students. Perhaps I am being unfairly cynical, but I don't think so.

I do find it very disturbing that the Charlottesville Police Department reclassified this case as a homicide in December and is just now making that known to the public, almost four months later. What are we to make of that?

Here is the article from today's Daily Progress.

Search for Sage Smith now a homicide investigation

2017-01-04T20:38:40.967-05:00 Texas Federal Judge Grants Injunction to Group Who Wants to Discriminate against Trans People's Right to Health Care Yesterday, I read an article online in the Washington Examiner that a Federal judge in Texas granted a temporary injunction against regulations in the Affordable Care Act that mandates health care providers provide medically necessary health care services to people who identify as transgender.

"The Catholic Benefits Association, which represents more than 700 Catholic employers including many hospitals, filed a lawsuit in federal court Dec. 28 in an effort to get its members exempted from the rule. Five states and several other Christian healthcare providers are already fighting the requirement in another case against the rule. A Texas judge halted the rule over the weekend.

2016-12-28T21:30:25.136-05:00 Further Along: My New Baby Freckles

On Saturday, Christmas Eve, we went last minute Christmas shopping for our furry babies, Jack Dawg the Beagle, and Jill and Callie our two kitties who came from the same litter. We always buy them presents for Christmas and fancy food for them to enjoy as well.

First we went to a grocery store, but they were essentially were sold out as was Walmart. So, as a last resort we went to PetSmart. They were last store to check out because they are the most expensive, but we couldn't not have presents for our beloved furry children for Christmas!!

So we went towards the dog section which is about half way back of the store and I saw Freckles! Like in the Godfather movie, where Michael Corleone is hiding in Sicily and sees Appolonia, I was hit by the "Thunderbolt" when I saw Freckles from half way across the store and was immediately drawn to him. He was very affectionate with me, quiet and gentle and I knew we were meant for each other.

I learned that Freckles was a Catahoula Leopard Dog mixed with a hound or a bird dog of some type. His breed originates in Louisiana and his breed was developed to hunt down in the swamps. he is a little over a year old and his family just decided they didn't want him anymore and gave him up. What a heartbreaking story! No matter how hard times I have had in my life, even when I had no place of my own, I never abandoned a pet I had taken to be a part of my life and their needs and wants always came before mine, even if I was hungry, I bought food for them first.

So Freckles will come to live with us this coming Saturday. On Christmas Day I was looking at one of the newspapers in our area, the Staunton News Leader and discovered Freckles' picture on the front page! Here he is:

I also have these two pictures from the dog rescue site:

I was feeling down about Christmas as I lost my Father three days after Christmas and three days before my birthday three years ago and today was especially hard for me being the 28th. But knowing we will have a new beloved member of the family really made Christmas special again for me this year and I know he will become a part of our happy family.

There are so many unwanted very sweet dogs and cats out there who need forever homes, like the ones Jack, Jill, Callie and now Freckles will have here with us. Please consider, if you are able,visiting the SPCA or a local dog or cat rescue and bring home someone who will give you more love than you ever dreamed possible.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

2016-12-21T20:56:30.838-05:00 Reply to Edy on my last blog article "Time Loves a Hero" Generally, I would have responded to Edy's comment which was polite and respectful as a reply under her comment but because I expanded my remarks in detail, it was too long there to post and instead I will post it as a separate blog article. Please read Time Loves a Hero to put this entry into proper context!

2016-12-19T19:46:40.530-05:00 Time Loves a Hero

2016-12-02T22:47:55.887-05:00 Further Along: Back From My Hiatus Well here I am again. I've decided that it is time to return to writing on my blog again after an extended absence that came as a result of the Islamic terrorist attack at the gay nightclub in Orlando Florida and subsequent news that there was a hit list of names that ISIS had released. A published map showed that targets were listed in both Charlottesville, VA and Staunton, VA. I happen to live between those places and chose to become less public for a time while things settled down.

I wish I could say they have, but the recent political unrest after the election of Donald Trump and then the Islamic terrorist attack at Ohio State University last week indicates otherwise. Nevertheless, I am finding things that I want to write about and share with all of you.

To catch up. How I Spent my Summer.

This year I have spent a lot of time taking stock of what it would take to survive some sort of catastrophe either weather related or man made. I decided to buy long term storage food to last 60 days and I planted my first garden in about 20 years. It was done in raised beds, so I found it easy to care for once the beds were constructed. I'm very glad that I won't have to build more frames this year and then prepare the beds inside the frames. That was really hard work. We had a decent harvest despite a super wet spring followed by a lot of drought. I will need to improve my ability to water the garden this coming year and work out a few other problems, but we were able to can and freeze enough vegetables to get through the winter into next growing season. I'm going to keep the garden the same size next year and focus on improving upon what I have put into place. It was a lot of hard work but in my opinion, well worth the effort.

We made other preparations for difficult times. I bought some camping stove burners and canned fuel so that we could have hot food and a coffee pot to use with it. I put 8 bags of charcoal away for such occasions as well. Hard times call for the little things that boost morale.

Safe heat to keep us warm is still an issue, but I bought chemical warmers that will have to do until we can do something better that will be safe in the house. Long term plans will include a generator and perhaps solar panels for electricity, but in the meantime we have 8 LED lanterns that will provide us enough light. For entertainment we will have books and the radio as well as a battery operated CD player.

We also found that a vacuum sealer by the Foodsaver company will allow us to keep frozen meats and vegetables in top quality for around a year and I would recommend this product highly to anyone for long term frozen food storage.

Some of you may know that I love to play golf and it is a spiritual meditation and discipline for me as well as a source of exercise. I had a bad fall in March and was unable to play until the end of June due to back problems. I was able to enjoy playing most of the rest of the summer until the week before Thanksgiving only missing a week here and there when my back wasn't feeling too good or the weather didn't cooperate.

Work was difficult over the last six months due to the financial hardships my employer (a community hospital) faced due to the negative impact of OBAMACARE. We were threatened with the possibility of our mental health outpatient clinic being closed throughout the summer but were granted a reprieve for the coming year at least and will remain open. Faced with the prospect of having to go back into private practice, I learned that the rate hikes in the health care exchange here in Virginia was going to raise the premium by $400.00 a month which would have made health insurance unaffordable for someone in a solo private practice. It would have cost me $900.00 a month. I would not have made enough money to live on with a premium like that, so I am very thankful that our practice at the hospital was spared for another year. All over I see clinical services being cut back and rationed due to OBAMACARE and I am hopeful that most of its provisions are scrapped with the exception of keeping the ban on exclusion of preexisting conditions. It is my hope that competition between health insurance companies will no longer be restricted within states and they will open up competition between health insurers nationally. By just that action alone having a nationwide pool of insured people will reduce the cost of premiums for individuals and make insurance more affordable for small businesses to provide that benefit to their employees.

I hope that you, my readers have had a great summer and I look forward to writing more frequently over the coming months.

  • Lauren Elisabeth http://www.blogger.com/profile/03293724106380438921 [email protected] 2 tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-4413603525256803350.post-7154091578237476292

    2016-06-20T09:40:53.377-04:00 Getting More Off the Grid 6/13/16 For those of you who read this, please understand that I wrote this and made the decision I have made due to recent events. I made a decision to temporarily remove my blog from the internet to prevent viewing by someone who may mean harm to me and my loved ones.

    2016-01-20T09:35:33.777-05:00 What is the Position of Feminists on the Sexual Assaults on Women in Europe Who have accepted Middle East "Refugees"? I'm hearing CRICKETS: Chirp Chirp, Chirp Chirp. In other words, STONY SILENCE.

    I simply cannot understand why Feminists are unable to stand up speaking out boldly and strongly against the very policies that will bring us oppression and violence that we have never experienced in admittedly biased culture that used to exist in America for many years. Are Feminists so willing to trade in our triumphs and victories in the gains in equality only to squander them to a radical left agenda? Are they willing to leave us victims to an agenda that places us in an even worse position ever dreamed of in a formerly oppressive western culture? It appears so. My only question is WHY?

    Feminists were never supportive of transsexuals in the 1960's 70's, 80's or 90's. Feminists today do not truly care about our well being today or for the welfare of women in general all over the world. It is evidenced by their stony silence about the abuse of women in Islamic culture and their silence about the spread of abuse of women in the western civilization. It is evidenced by prominent female politicians who excuse the sexual abuse of women in exchange for their own political careers by enabling their husbands who serially abuse women. Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin come easily to mind as examples of modern feminist women who will put up with spouses who sexually abuse women in order to further their own political positions without regard for the chilling message it sends women in our culture today about what is acceptable in the way men treat women in relationships.

    Hillary whines about an imaginary war against women here in America, while she remains oddly silent about the real war against women going on in Europe. She wants to bring these Middle East men to America when we have no way of vetting them or possibly hope to know what their intentions towards our citizens are. Judging from what is happening in Europe, my opinion that only disaster can result if we follow through with this folly. Hillary and her ilk can't even identify the threat we face for what it is: Radical Islam and we are the victims of Jihad.

    Really, these Middle East men are not refugees, they are occupiers. They practice the age old terroristic act of rape as a form of warfare, to establish themselves permanently in Europe and then on to America. It is a form of warfare that has been practiced by conquering countries since the dawn of civilization.

    Modern or so called third wave feminists are trying to tell us that our identities as transsexuals lie on some type of blurred continuum of gender identity when the vast majority of us strongly identify as male or female, man or woman and not something in between. You find this sort of thinking of us being something in between in the academic world or feminists, not in real life. Don't believe me? Check out the National Trans Equality Surveys. Modern Feminists in academia want to relegate us to something "less than" a man or a woman, though the majority of trans people know this simply isn't so. By their complicit silence, they are selling us into subjugation by not taking a stand against forces that will relegate us to a level of treatment that isn't even human.

    I would strongly urge you to engage in critical thinking in making your decisions about the challenges the United States faces in the upcoming national elections and in determining the fate our our future. Your future existence may be at stake.

    2015-12-22T19:19:20.787-05:00 A Christmas Blessing For Sage Smith's Family http://www.newsplex.com/home/headlines/Local-Group-Donates-Christmas-Gifts-to-Missing-Teens-Family-363232921.html

    2015-12-20T22:47:29.086-05:00 Further Reflections on the Nature of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Transgender Individuals and Implications for Its Treatment In October of this year, I completed 12 face to face educational hours and 16.5 hours online learning in depth about the nature and treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I became a certified trauma counselor through the International Association of Trauma Professionals. I have had an intensive exposure to learning about the nature of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a dis-regulation of the Sympathetic Nervous System resulting in a person on a frequent to continuous basis experiences being in the state of "flight or fight"response.

    The Sympathetic Nervous System is a subdivision of the Autonomic Nervous System. The other half of the Autonomic Nervous System is called the Parasympathetic Nervous System and it's job is to promote a physical sense of calm and well being, and allowing us to be present in the moment when there is no existing threat to us.

    Normally, the Parasympathetic is the dominant or default condition of the autonomic nervous system, In those who experience dis-regulation of the Sympathetic Nervous System, it becomes the dominant system. The individual will experience symptoms of anxiety, excessive perspiration or dry mouth, muscular tension, sleep disturbances, feelings of panic and other symptoms of this nature when in reality, no threat exists for the individual.Experiencing these type of symptoms can range from frequently feeling dysphoria of a mild to a severely incapacitating degree.

    It is not known at this time the number of transgender people who suffer from the symptoms of P.T.S.D, In my opinion, to the degree that a transsexual has developed a sense of self awareness, the discovery of one's physical body is not of the gender that matches one's gender identity, the greater the degree of traumatization the individual will experience. Similarly, the longer the individual lives with the inability to live authentically and denies one's true identity, the greater the risk for increasing levels of traumatization over the life span.

    It is important to be able to identify the type of trauma experience of the transgender person as a complex trauma or as a developmental trauma, so that the type of treatment selection is important.
    Developmental traumas do not respond well to psychotropic medications. That does not mean they have no role in the treatment of developmental or complex trauma, it does imply that medications will not be the solution alone in successfully treating this type of PTSD. Medications will be relatively less effective in this type of PTSD over the long term in resolving symptoms.

    What is necessary is a retraining of the Autonomic Nervous System to give people more control in activating and learning to stay in states when the Parasympathetic system is restored to being the dominant division over the Sympathetic system.

    When a person is able to exercise more emotional regulation, it is then the therapy can move forward to process and resolve the significance of the past trauma. In part, this is accomplished by the individual recognizing that the past trauma is not occurring in the here and now. As one is able to leave the past behind, the trauma loses its powerful hold on the individual and she is able to continue through the healing process using the techniques learned to manage her levels of reactivity. She is able to be more present in day to day life as opposed to experiencing symptoms of rumination of negative thoughts of the past or future that remove one from what is going on in the here and now. She becomes free to build a brighter future.

    An area that I think deserves further consideration and study is whether the presence of lingering low self esteem or a sense of stigmatization in individuals who have successfully transitioned represents some type or residual state of PTSD that will be extremely treatment resistant.. Is it possible, as Bob Dylan wrote, "You can always come back, but you can't come back all the way. "?

    If it can be addressed, it will likely come through cognitive restructuring requiring long term psychotherapy. The longevity of the treatment will be as important as the frequency of appointments. In psychotherapy that lasts over several years, appointments are held once a week for a long period of time leading to appointments a few times a year over several years after the most intensive part of the therapy is completed. I believe this type of therapy offers the best chance of resolving residual issues of PTSD such as I described above.

    I did a literature search on the National Medical Library of the National Institutes of Health and did several fetches using keywords such as PTSD, Transgender and Trauma and found no articles after an advanced search that directly address the concepts I am writing of here. The closest article was an article in a psychoanalytic journal. It is called Mourning the Body as Bedrock Developmental Considerations in Treating the Transsexual Patient Analytically. (www.NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov/pubmed/25277869). It suggests that psychoanalytic treatment can be helpful in resolving developmental or complex traumas experienced by transgender people. Research into the treatment of PTSD reveals that many different therapies can be effective in treating PTSD. What is most important is that the therapist be fluent in the modality of of treatment she employs over any particular school of therapy.

    In any event, much more research is obviously indicated to help transgender people effectively resolve past trauma and build a future based on mastery over self and the social environment.

    2015-12-13T20:48:13.135-05:00 Donald Trump, the Islamic Radical Terrorist Threat, and American Politics Donald Trump is a Republican candidate in the coming Presidential election. Recently, he called for a ban on allowing Muslim refugees from entering the United States on a temporary basis and has been denounced both by Democrats and the majority of Republicans. The American news media have shed all pretense of being objective in vociferously attacking Trump rather than staying true to their role of simply reporting the news objectively. That isn't surprising however. The majority of news agencies have been pushing a liberal political agenda as long as I can remember going back to the late 1960's and now the minority of news agencies are no less objective in reporting by pushing a conservative agenda. It is curious, though, how many Republicans have joined the bandwagon calling him a racist and a bigot.

    I am not a supporter of Donald Trump. Eight years ago he was a vociferous supporter of Barak Obama, who has easily eclipsed, in my opinion, the worst president of my lifetime, Jimmy Carter. Obama makes one nostalgic for the old days when Carter contributed to destroying the U.S. economy with high taxes and seriously weakened national security. He brought our nation the energy crisis that left us with terrible energy shortages. Gasoline was rationed in the summer of 1979 and I remember having to wait in long lines because you could only buy gas every other day depending whether your license plate ended in an even or an odd number. Jobs were difficult to come by and wages were lagging with inflation. President Carter brought us an economic index called the "Misery Index" Because of his perceived weakness as a President who was weak on national defense, we had the Iranian hostage crisis, which only ended after our citizens were held in captivity by Iran. His administration sold out our closest Middle East ally, Israel. He gave away the Panama Canal, which is now controlled by the People's Republic of China. Amazingly, the Iranian hostage crisis ended within the first several weeks after President Reagan was sworn into office as President of the United States. While Iran had no fear of Carter, they knew that President Reagan was not a leader to further antagonize. But even President Carter had the common sense to ban Iranians from entering our country and revoked the Visas of Iranian Students who were studying at our colleges and universities during that time of crisis.

    President Obama cannot even identify the threat to our country as Radical Islamic terrorism. He consistently underestimates the threat ISIS poses to our country, calling them the (Junior Varsity) in January of this year after the first terrorist attack in Paris, and announcing that ISIS was contained the day before the horrific attack in Paris in November of 2015. My best hope is that he is merely incompetent and out of touch about the danger we face here and abroad, and my worst fear is that his pronouncements are a deliberate intent to aid and abet the destruction of our country and our way of life. His address last Sunday and the recent statements of our attorney general reveals that he and his administration consider us more of a threat to Muslims than Radical Islam is to the citizens of the United States. I find that quite astonishing.

    When Reagan left office eight years later, our country was strong economically and our national defense was strong. It is really quite hard to believe that the United States has fallen so far in such a short period of time. My opinion is that much of the responsibility lies at the feet of liberal Democrats and center left to left leaning Republicans. Both the Democrat party and the Republican party have sold us out.

    So why am I not a supporter of Donald Trump, you may ask? I am not a supporter of him for several reasons. While I agree with most of the things he says and what he says appears to resonate well with conservative people, the way he presents his views are unacceptable as he antagonizes people and does not try to persuade people who disagree with him. He does not present himself or his views in a presidential manner.

    I also question whether he is a Trojan Horse, really a liberal democrat who is out to destroy any chance of electing an alternative to Hillary Clinton who will continue the policies of destroying our country that Barak Obama began. Apparently, he is a good friend of Ms. Clinton's too. I simply do not trust him to govern in a manner that is consistent with his stated political opinions. I do believe that he is an extremely divisive figure and not a uniting force in America.

    As far as his opinion that we should temporarily ban Muslims from entering our country, I agree with that position as our government has proven itself incompetent in screening Muslim Immigrants coming into our country. In Europe, we have seen that ISIS (or ISL, or however we call them on any given day) has secreted terrorists among the refugees flooding the European Union. Mr. Trump NEVER said that Muslims in America today should be rounded up, interred in prison camps or expelled from our country. He simply believes that no Muslims should be granted entrance to our country until we can determine who they are, their history and whether they pose a threat to our country. Given that a Pew Poll in 2013 found that 13% of Muslims in our country are sympathetic to Radical Islam and would like to see Sharia Law imposed in America, his position seems prudent.

    Here in America, we have accepted almost no Christian refugees (less than 1% and more persecuted than anyone in the Middle East), while the majority of Muslim refugees are not women and children, but young men of military age. There is something VERY WRONG with this picture, and our government has no clue about the background of these people they are allowing into our country, even in the face of vocal opposition of the majority of the American people. In my opinion, this is a prescription for disaster.

    Until we can find a way of learning exactly who these Muslim people are, my hope is that they will be prevented from entering the United States until they can be properly identified and certified accurately as not being a threat to American citizens. These people do not want to assimilate into American Life, many want to bring Sharia law to our country. They are hostile to Western values and are hostile to the existence of transgender people. We need to find ways of properly evaluating each of the refugees before they are cleared to enter our country

    2015-12-13T18:20:51.967-05:00 Hello Russia! Russia is the nation with the second most views of my blog for all time after my own country, the USA. For the past month, I've had 600 views from Russia, not many less than my own country's views.

    As an amateur student of Russian History and Russian Literature, I am curious about what it means to be a transsexual or transgender person in Russia or in Eastern Europe and in the former member states of the former Soviet Union.

    My interest in Russia goes back to my adolescent years when I first saw the movie Nicholas and Alexandra. In my undergraduate studies. I took a course in Russian History. I began to read literature by Dostoevsky, Chekov, and Solzhenitsyn. I found Ayn Rand on my own and have embraced many) of her philosophical ideas in my own personal philosophy (along with much of the philosophy of B.F. Skinner and Behaviorism). I was also fascinated by the influence of Grigory Rasputin (referred to as the "Mad Monk" over the Czarina Alexandra as well as his own story.

    I grew up in the 1960's and 1970's in the era of what we call in America "The Cold War". One of my earliest memories was of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Here in the USA, my early childhood memory was of the adults fearing we were going to die at what seemed to be the beginning of World War III. Thankfully, that event would not become the catalyst of the destruction of two great countries and perhaps the entirety of Western Civilization.

    I was a young adult when Ronald Reagan implored Gorbachev to tear down the wall separating East Berlin and West Berlin and saw that wall fall on television along with the disintegration of the United Soviet Socialist Republic, or as we called it, the Soviet Union.

    As an American transsexual who is a mental health professional, my practice is partly devoted to working with transgender people. I am quite interested in how people such as myself fare in other countries. My audience for this blog is truly international. I have readers in every continent, even from Middle Eastern countries and African countries where people such as myself suffer unspeakable persecution, to the point of torture and loss of life because of who they are. There are things worse than dying for who one is or one's religious belief, though, such as being tortured or living under extreme oppression.

    I seldom get comments from people from foreign countries who read my blog. My guess is that in some of the countries my readers come from that they dare not leave a trace that they have read what I have written.

    As I mentioned, I am quite interested in the lives of transgender people in other countries and other cultures. I would like to invite my Russian readers to participate in commenting on your lives, your struggles and your triumphs to live an authentic life.

    2015-12-09T18:29:07.384-05:00 It's 2015 and Sage Smith is Still Missing Sage Smith is a young transgender woman from Charlottesville, VA who is still missing. I say "is" because we still don't know of her fate, except that she was supposed to meet a man from Minnesota who came to Charlottesville to meet her. She disappeared in December 2012 and while there have been some feeble leads, no one has been able to find out her fate.

    I never knew Sage. I don't know anyone in her family. I have no contact with the Transgender Community in Charlottesville, partly because I live 25 miles from Charlottesville, partly because in a relatively rural area, almost every person who is transgender has been a patient of mine, and I can't have relationships outside of my work with people I work with for at least two years after my work with them is done and over.

    More information was released by Charlottesville, VA police this past November and featured on NBC channel 29 in Charlottesville, which I discovered today:

    Drug-Resistant "Super Heartworms" Force Change In Treatment - pets

    We (or our cats) can also become ill from a combination of two types of invaders. Only lab testing can determine the cause(s) of symptoms. Once that is determined, a course of treatment can be prescribed.

    What Human Diseases Can Cats Catch?

    When cats catch a disease from a human, it is known as zooanthroponosis or reverse zoonosis. A 2014 paper listed on the National Institutes of Health website commented that an increasing number of reports are emerging of animals being infected with human diseases. This makes sense, as our invasion of previously wild spaces for development means we are interacting more commonly with wild animals. Pet ownership keeps going up, which puts more people in close proximity to more domesticated animals. And more funding is being directed toward studying pet illnesses, so we're aware of many more connections than we used to be.

    The main concern of the report listed above was animals in the food chain being infected. But since cats are obligate carnivores, it stands to reason that a threat to the health of animals raised to be meat would also threaten the cats that eat their meat.

    Some of the diseases cats can catch from us are those that go both ways: we can infect each other with them. Here's a rundown of the most common zooanthroponotic diseases:

    Bubonic plague


    While cancer itself is not transmitted between individuals, if you smoke and your cats are exposed to secondhand smoke, they can get cancer from it. Not only lung cancer, either: since cats groom all the time, it's even more common for them to develop oral cancers from licking all those carcinogens off their coats. Because cats are so much smaller than we are, secondhand smoke poses a far greater risk to them than it does to us humans. Proportionally, they are receiving a much higher dosage of the carcinogens in smoke.

    Vaping is popular now as a less-stinky alternative to cigarettes, but even that involves carcinogens. It has not been around long enough for us to yet know the long-term consequences of vaping.


    E. coli (Escherichia coli)

    Giardia (giardiasis)

    Influenza (the flu)

    MRSA (methycillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus)

    Ringworm (dermatophytosis)


    Tuberculosis (TB, Myobacterium tuberculosis complex)

    What to Do if You Suspect Your Cat Has Caught a Human Disease

    Your vet can do the necessary lab work to verify what is affecting your cat, even if you're certain the symptoms look like a disease someone else in your family recently had. This is not the time to self-diagnose. Let your vet and the lab techs do what they were trained to do.

    Once back home, make sure your kitty's bedding area and potty are kept clean. Make fresh water available to kitty and encourage drinking plenty of it by using a fountain to give it some motion. A lot of cats don't want to eat when they're sick, but encourage the cat to eat by serving kitty's favorite meal. If the air is dry, consider using a humidifier. but do not diffuse essential oils, as many of those can be harmful to a cat's liver with the cat already fighting off one infection, compromising the liver could prove fatal. And give your cat plenty of time to sleep, as this helps the body heal.

    How to Protect Your Cat From Human Diseases

    Obviously, those who work with cats in veterinary clinics, shelters, breeding facilities, or rescue groups must maintain the cleanliness of those facilities and refrain from being in contact with the cats if they have any of the above-listed illnesses. Most of these facilities keep wall dispensers of hand sanitizer nearby, but using this is no substitute for thorough hand washing when handling the cats or their waste.

    If you have any of the diseases mentioned above, try to prevent your cat from sleeping in the bed with you. This is easier said than done, as our cats tend to want to give us their healing purrs when they sense that we are sick. Hopefully, you have other family members who can care for the cats and distract them while you recuperate.

    If someone in your human family has developed symptoms of one of the intestinal infections listed above, wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your cat. Keep kitty out of the bathroom when you are in there. again, easier said than done, but try. Keep the cats clear of the infected human and make sure the person's hands are clean. Disinfect clothing and household surfaces.

    To avoid giving your kitty tuberculosis, avoid giving your cat unpasteurized cow's milk and be careful of where you source any raw meat you feed your cats.

    In general, the same hygiene practices that protect us from spreading diseases between humans also protect our cats: frequent and thorough hand washing and a little extra care taken when sick not to expose your cats to the disease. The same goes for if you visit a sick person in the hospital, are hospitalized yourself, or work in a hospital.

    If your cat is under additional stress (from things like moves, construction noise, grief, or household changes), you may consider giving kitty an immune-boosting supplement. While this won't prevent your cat from being exposed to diseases, it can help minimize the impact of any infections, helping your cat recover more quickly and with less severe symptoms.

    How to Protect Yourself from Feline Diseases

    If you keep yourself healthy, there's less chance of your spreading any type of disease to your cats.

    Obviously, if you're fostering or adding a new cat to your household, keep the newcomer separate from your other cats and avoid too much contact until the cat has a health check by your vet. This will protect both you and your other feline companions.

    Whenever you handle cat waste or food, always wash your hands thoroughly with soap afterward. And don't just run them under the water, spend a little time rubbing the soap all over the palms and backs of your hands, between all your fingers, and around your nails, to get to all the pathogens that may be present. I have read that singing the song "Happy Birthday to You" through while you're washing will keep you at it for the recommended amount of time. Washing your hands will take care of 90% of the danger of any infection from any diseases your cat may have.

    Keep your household clean, as well: vacuum frequently and disinfect food surfaces daily and floors periodically. Completely empty and disinfect the interiors of litter boxes monthly, and refill them with fresh, clean litter. You can scoop and replace litter in between times, but toss it all when you clean the inside of the box.

    It seems like new human diseases are being discovered all the time these days. Knowing which of them pose a risk for our cats is important. Armed with that knowledge, we can take the appropriate steps to protect our feline companions from harm.

    2020-06-12T11:50:35.128-04:00 Keep Your Cat Safe at Thanksgiving.

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