Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Skeptic Seth

by Gary Niederhoff on August 17, 2015

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Big Picture Science – Skeptic Check: Skeptic Seth

Are you skeptical? Sure, you raise an eyebrow when some Nigerian prince asks for your bank numbers, or when a breakfast cereal claims that it will turn your kid into a professional athlete overnight.

But what do you really know about the benefits of organic milk? Or the power of whitening ingredients in your toothpaste? How credible is what you read on Twitter?

Today, information overwhelms us, and the need to keep our skeptical wits about us has never been greater. We follow Seth around as he faces the daily onslaught of hype and hokum.

It’s Skeptic Check, our monthly look at critical thinking … but don’t take our word for it!

Listen to individual segments here:
Part 1: Daniel Armistead / Whitening Toothpaste
Part 2: Steven Novella / Health Gimmicks
Part 3: UFO caller
Part 4: Guy Harrison / Unreliable Memory
Part 5: Andrew Maynard / Fearing Technology
Part 6: Peter Adams / Trustworthy Information
Part 7: Guy Harrison / Ghostbuster

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Steve Bergman February 28, 2016 at 4:44 pm

The section on raw vs pasteurized milk was a bit shallow and cursory to be a good skeptic’s approach. There is no doubt that Pasteurization kills harmful microbes. But it also kills organisms whic are beneficial or potentially beneficial to our microbiomes, including but not limited to lactobacillus acidophilus. Do the advantages of pasteurization outweigh the disadvantages? I’d say that the answer is unknown. We know that the microbiome is far more important than we used to think. But experts in that field are clear that much more research is needed.

Skepticism is more than just seeking out a single expert and asking a question. It’s as much about finding out how much is not known as finding out what is known. Is there a concensus? How do the experts respond to questions about the “pro” of killing harmful bacteria as balanced against the “con” of killing beneficial bacteria. Our sources of LB-acidophilus are quite limited. Yogurt comes to mind. But it, too, is pasteurized. (Those yogurts with active culture have it artificially added after pasteurization. Raw milk requires no starter culture to ferment to yogurt.)

Another good question is whether we might be better off to forego the “scorched earth” approach of pasteurization in favor of simply testing raw milk for the presence of harmful organisms.

I’m really not satisfied with the answer on this one. Saying that there is no evidence supporting health advantages of raw milk begs the question of whether enough research has been done to know. Especially since there are reasons to think that there might be some. I would say that the jury is still out on this one. If I had to guess, I would say that properly tested raw milk is likely to be better than pasteurized. But again, sometimes the skeptic must reach the conclusion that more research is needed.

Regarding “organix” milk, I pretty much agree that the differences in n-3 fatty acids and iodine are insignificant, and that BGH and antibiotics aren’t a problem. The amounts of all of those are so tiny as to be insignificant. I do have concerns that our current ultra-sanitary society might come with both the obvious pros and the perhaps not so obvious cons. Much more research on our microbiomes is needed.

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