Hell hath no fury…

Like a mother’s uninformed outrage.

This isn’t a particularly humorous story, especially so as a first post to be writing as a contribution to this blog, but displays the kind of unchecked, illogical thinking that crops up in Yahoo news “journalism” all too commonly.

The mother’s young daughter being paralyzed is certainly a just cause for anger, sadness, and devastation. Any concerned parent would want answers and for that I do not fault the Minnesota mom for her disbelief, but what we have here is a classic case of Dunning-Kruger manifesting itself in the wake of what sounds like a freak accident.

The accident report stated that the girl fell unaided – whether or not this is true largely appears to be a case of ‘he said, she said’, but our family in question seems to be on a more conspiratorial line of thinking with quotes like this:

“You don’t get paralyzed from falling. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out,” Penny Privette, Jenna Privette’s mother, told the Star-Tribune.

Besides the fact that rocket scientists don’t deal with medical injuries at a professional level, a cursory search for paraplegia/paralysis would disagree. Paralysis can occur with injuries that result in certain trauma to the nervous system, most especially spinal damage. While the report does not go into depth about how the girl fell or the context leading up to, it is not at all unrealistic to consider that she could have fallen on her back or hit her neck in some way. These things, while not particularly common, do happen.

Damage to the spinal cord is most often caused by trauma, such as a fall or a car crash. [Source; emphasis mine]

 

The woman goes on to display a particularly uncritical assessment:

“We’re losing the sight of what’s most important. We know what we know. We know what … we saw. … I’m not going to get into a big war over stuff when I have my daughter sitting here in a hospital bed.”

As skeptics, we know that first-hand account is often particularly unreliable. “We know what we know and we saw what we saw” is not a critical analysis and does not provide reliable, irrefutable evidence. This kind of testimony would not hold up in a court of law. We have reason to doubt a grieving mother who is probably looking for answers in what could very well be a one-in-a-million accident, especially in context of the report given:

“She was not contacted illegally, did not fall into the boards and did not appear to fall awkwardly to the ice,” the report said. The official said he checked with his partner, the linesman, the EMT on staff and the school athletic director, and “everyone agreed that the player appeared to fall unaided.”

[Source]

This is not unreasonable. The case is undoubtedly a sad one and one can only hope that her daughter makes a full recovery, but we are presented with a cause to cast doubt on the family’s assessment of the situation. Certainly it is possible that the investigation was trying to avoid undue lawsuits or similar hardships, but the case becomes more interesting with this tidbit:

Penny Privette said previously that doctors were hopeful her daughter would regain feeling in her legs, as she did after a similar injury in 2008.

DIRECTED BY M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN.

At last, the twist! While the specifics are, unsurprisingly, vague as hell, this clip alone suggests that this girl has a history of paralysis-related injuries. The kicker comes next:

It’s unknown whether the new changes will actually be able to inspire better hockey behavior, but one thing does seem certain: They aren’t going to make anyone happy by claiming that one of the players who was left paralyzed by such a hit was responsible for her own injury.

What I hate here isn’t that Yahoo News has pointed out an uncomfortable truth. It’s that the insinuation here is that those who did the investigation into the incident should spare the feelings of the family and tell them what they want to hear. Sometimes there are blameless accidents. Sometimes one-in-a-million injuries occur – and sometimes they’re not so one-in-a-million when you find out the girl in question has apparently had a similar injury in the past. Is it entirely possible that there was an illegal check that put this unfortunate girl in the position she is? Yes. Is there compelling evidence put forth to support it in this article or the second source cited? Absolutely not.

Emotional outrage is often fraught with fallacy. Feeling something strongly – even very strongly does not make your belief unquestionably rational or reasonable. In times of duress, we often look for answers and can feel deeply disturbed of unsatisfied if it seems like there aren’t any (see also: “acts of god” and other paranormal beliefs), or if we don’t get the answer we’re looking for. Certainly blaming someone else for your son or daughter’s injury can take off some of the pain you justifiably feel at seeing someone you love suffer, but reality can be a hard pill to swallow. If, in fact, the girl in question fell unaided, it is not to say she purposely injured herself or should dwell unduly on the incident, but an accident is just that – an accident.

What the Fracking Frack

(Source)

A 4.0 magnitude earthquake that startled residents around Youngstown, Ohio, is believed to have been caused by wastewater injection wells associated with fracking. Youngstown isn’t the first location to see seismic activity, suspected by some, to be triggered by fracking activity lately.

Believed to be?  Seriously?  They’re using some of the stupidest weasel words every uttered by humankind in a science article.  Astonishing.

It is not fracking itself that causes earthquakes. Instead it is the injection wells used for disposal of the wastewater used during the fracking process that is believed to trigger seismic activity. Fracking is a process by which fluid is injected deep into a shale deposit to fracture the shale and release the natural gas trapped within it. The fluid that is used is then disposed of using deep injection wells.

No casual mechanism here folks.  Move along.

The United States Geological Survey has cited a correlation between injection wells and seismic activity. According to the USGS, A 5.5 magnitude earthquake that struck near Denver, Colorado in 1967 was attributed to injection wells and followed a number of smaller quakes in the area.

This one’s easy:  post hoc ergo propter hoc.

What makes this so bad?  Well, they’re literally only going off of correlational observations (you can’t really even call these studies) and fracking doesn’t need the bad PR unless it can be proven that it’s actually doing something negative.  It’s a vital technique for harvesting natural gas that environmentalists have a raging anti-corporate boner over.  There have been unfair documentaries done on the subject that have muddied the waters considerably.  The last thing we need is shoddy reporting like this uncritically echoing unfounded assertions about fracking and earthquakes.

If there is better evidence to link the two, you sure as hell don’t see it here.

Americans Think Science Will Save the Economy

(Source)

Sometimes, Yahoo News makes me sad and it isn’t the author of the article that is the problem.  In fact, every Yahoo News article, no matter how reasonable the report itself is, has droves of inane commentors that say the craziest shit imaginable in response.  Time for an example!  Lets start with some feel good quotes.

According to a compilation of polls, science have benefited society and have helped make life easier for most people. A vast majority (91 percent) also believe that research and development are important to their state’s economy.  More than 70 percent of Americans believe that the federal government should place more emphasis on the number of American students who pursue STEM  careers.

So yeah, that look good for us skeptics.  Kinda makes you smile doesn’t it?  They seem to believe science is the solution to our problems even if they don’t do a very good job of supporting it always.  Feeling good?  Great.  Release the horde of ignorant commentors!

I will say this again: Evolution NOR the big bang have NOTHING to do with the economy. No scientist educated in the big bang or evolution can offer the solution. Its people who know the market and the business world that can offer the solution. Why do you think business are make more money then scientists? They know the market better then they know the theory of evolution or the big bang known by scientists.

Evolution is change in nature etc etc etc. Nothing to do with the economy. Big bang? Nothing to do with marketing. So science doesn’t have the solution unless they get a computer to do it…which won’t make less of a difference.

More jobs? what does that seriously have to do with evolution? Therefor its ignorant for an atheist to bring up evolution or the big bang. Saying “it has the solution since its “proven” by science!”

No,its education in the market,not study of our natural world. And atheists think they know more..right..one person to a group can’t speak for the rest of America.

I wanna see if atheists can give the solution..oh wait! They do nothing but attack and complain but leave it up to the scientists to do the dirty work but claim to be so logical

I wouldn’t want the poster responsible for that to go uncredited, so here, it was written by Godislove, from Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  I only have one question to ask in response to this:  Why do you think business are make more money than scientists, dear reader?

We may not have the best health care system in the world, but thank god we don’t live in Paraguay!

A lovely comment by TRADE REDD NOW from… Amsterdam?  Apparently so.

after reading the post–my big question is where in the hell was this poll taken–in the white house

We can all thank Retired in Florida for this gem.  Unfortunately I cannot tell you where they’re from cause they didn’t include their location information.

Why not come up with a way to Neutor babies at Birth, when they become productive adults reverse the process. Once the parents and their useless children have filtered through the prison system our Nation will save trillions of dollars and crime will become almost non-existant

If you guys are wondering who to send the thank you card to, James G from Shawnee, Kansas shared that little nugget of wisdom with us.

So remember ladys and gents:  if you read a Yahoo News article and it doesn’t immediately depress you, just look at the comments, and I can guarantee you that you’ll find something sigh worthy relatively quickly.

Healthy eating may help ADHD kids: US study

(Source)

First off, I love the title. “Attention ADHD kids:  it may be a good idea to eat healthy.”  Shocking!  Eating healthy might be good for people?!  Okay, sarcasm over, lets look at some quotes:

Simply eating healthier may improve the behavior of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder if therapy and medication fail, said a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.Researchers, however, said that their review of recent controlled scientific studies had shown conflicting evidence on the impact of supplements and restricted diets — in some cases they were no better than the placebo effect.

They outright admit that there is mixed evidence right off the bat and they’re defining eating healthy as a restrictive diet with supplements?  Okay.  Time for the first ever curse uttered on this blog.  You ready?  I am:  what the fucking fuck-fuck.  Lets read more, shall we?  I know I’m feeling masochistic.

The precise causes of ADHD are unknown, although studies have pointed to hereditary factors as well as social and environmental influences. Eating high-sugar and high-fat foods may exacerbate symptoms, some research has shown.But while proposed interventions such as giving iron supplements or cutting out additives and food dyes have soared in popularity in recent years, the Pediatrics article said there is little solid science to back up those claims.Similarly, studies focused on getting rid of potential allergens in the diet such as wheat, eggs, chocolate, cheese and nuts, have shown limited success with some ADHD kids “but a placebo effect could not be excluded,” said the study.Even when it comes to sugar and diet soda, two elements which many parents believe can trigger hyperactivity in children, scientific studies have been unable to prove a definitive link.

No casual mechanism has been found between ADHD and diet, and in many instances they can’t even prove a link, yet they’re testing changing the diet to cure it.  Yeah, that sounds like good science to me!

For many parents, simply paying more attention to feeding their kids a healthy diet, rich in fish, vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole-grains, is likely to help.”A greater attention to the education of parents and children in a healthy dietary pattern, omitting items shown to predispose to ADHD, is perhaps the most promising and practical complementary or alternative treatment of ADHD,” said the study.

So lets see, in review… Conflicting research, lack of a casual link, talk of complimentary, and alternative medicine.  Consider this in a Bayesian fashion:  one new study comes out that is evidence for something. There is already plenty of evidence against it.  This study the proverbial drop in the bucket right here, it proves absolutely nothing.  Worst of all, the average, scientifically illiterate reader who stumbles across this will only read the headline and then substitute in whatever their view of healthy eating is as the miracle ADHD cure that stems from patient empowerment!

Some people will walk away from this article thinking that their kid only has ADHD because they’re not eating properly. It’s difficult to say this is a bad thing if it means a couple of kids out there eat healthier, but healthy eating is a nebulous term to begin with.  To many parents, this means “I need to buy more organic produce.”  Science hasn’t even conclusively determined whether dieting is about calorie in calorie out or something more complex, but we’re ready to cure neurological disorders that we don’t even understand through judicious application of fruits, vegetables, and fish?

What’s probably going on here is very simple:  in administering the restrictive diet to their child, they’re giving them more structure and order in their life.  That child is learning to control their eating impulses better and to adhere to those dietary rules set up, so it’s probably having an effect on their general behavior.  You can chalk the rest of the improvements up to the placebo effect and the changes in their body resulting from becoming healthier people.  In short, there is no reason to believe the link this crappy article presupposes.

Thanks for uncritically giving a sounding board to more dietary and supplemental bullshit, Yahoo!  Now I’m tempted to go dig up their link about Vitamin D deficiencies and depression (spoiler alert:  by link, I mean they found a correlation and no causative mechanism).