junk science

Last week, international media outlets reported that asparagus causes cancer. It does not.

Like a series of bad sequels, the media is back with yet another terribly botched story. This time, the claim is that using household cleaning sprays is like smoking 20 cigarettes per day. Wrong again.

The study, which used a cohort design, examined lung capacity and function among...

One of the top trending Google searches at the time of this writing was "asparagine," one of the roughly 20 amino acids that make up the proteins in our bodies and in our food.

Why was this rather boring molecule that biology majors are forced to memorize grabbing international headlines? Because, according to the media, it causes cancer. And where can you find asparagine? It can be found in any food that contains protein -- which is a lot of foods -- including asparagus, the vegetable after which it was named.

Thus, asparagus causes cancer.

Think I'm joking? I'm not. This headline is from The Times of London:


One of the many problems with academia is that it allows nutcases to flourish.

Consider Columbia University. It employs both Dr. Oz, "America's Quack," and Mark Bittman, a former organic food warrior for the New York Times who was once described as a "scourge on science." UC-Berkeley has Joel Moskowitz on staff, a "wi-fi truther" who thinks that...

Much buzz has surrounded President Trump's "Fake News Awards." Given that part of our mission is debunking pseudoscience and bogus health claims, we felt obliged to offer our own Fake News Award ... for junk science.

Websites like Food Babe, Mercola, InfoWars, and Natural News are perennial contenders. But giving them the award is too easy and predictable. Anyone with a halfway decent frontal lobe knows that these websites are pure garbage.

So, the Fake News Award for Science should go to a media outlet that has credibility (in some people's eyes, anyway), yet consistently gets the science wrong, likely for ideological reasons. With those criteria in...

Open displays of bipartisanship are rare these days and, as such, should be applauded. Unfortunately, a recent example of bipartisanship promotes junk science and bogus health claims.

In a press release, Democratic Congressman Jared Polis and Republican Congressman Mike Coffman announced their intention to launch the Integrative Health and Wellness Caucus. That sounds nice, until you realize that "integrative" and "wellness" are code words for "alternative medicine."

However, as we've said multiple times, there's no such thing as alternative medicine. If alternative medicine worked, it would just be called medicine. In other words, a patient has two choices: evidence-based...

It's the season for Top 10 lists. The challenge, as usual, is to narrow down all the junk science we debunked in 2017 to just the ten best (worst?) stories. It would be far easier to create a top 100 list.

(Actually, it would be even easier to create a top 193 list, which is what we did earlier this year with the publication of Little Black Book of Junk Science. You can download it for free.)

Bearing that fundamental limitation in mind, here are the ten biggest junk science stories of 2017.

Honorable Mentions

Five bizarre stories did not quite make the top 10. They receive honorable mentions:

(1) A history professor claims...

When I was in 5th grade, my elementary school teacher asked all of us to conduct an experiment at home.

I chose to grow grass in two pots. (There were no bonus points for creativity.) Both pots were watered regularly and kept in the sunlight. The only difference is that one pot had a plastic bag around it -- essentially making a tiny greenhouse. My hypothesis was that the extra warmth would cause the grass in that pot to grow taller.

And it did! If I wanted to be a real scientist, I would have done the experiment 10 more times and performed a two-sample t-test to determine the statistical significance of my results. But that was above my pay grade, at the time.

Though my experiment was simple, it included all the basics of the scientific method: Observation,...

With the holiday season fast approaching, inevitably we will succumb to reckless dietary choices because, what the hey, we have been good the rest of the year, right?  Once the new year hits, we will be made to suffer the guilt and the shame for our collective weaknesses.  The vulnerability that results from self-hate makes us perfect prey for snake oil salesmen.

Thankfully, the American Chemical Society Reactions group teamed up with Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Digital Studios as part of a video series called The Great Courses Plus - to smarten us up so we don't fall for gimmicks. 

They produced a video that explains the science behind our body’s ability to detoxify itself using our...

A Missouri court of appeals recently tossed out a decision to award $72 million (ten million dollars in actual damages and $62 million in punitive damages) to a woman suing Johnson & Johnson alleging that the company’s baby powder caused her ovarian cancer.

Initially a jury in a St. Louis circuit court initially decided in favor of Jacqueline Fox, 62, of Birmingham, Alabama (who had passed away before her case went to trial).  The plaintiff had claimed that years of use of Johnson & Johnson products containing talcum powder had contributed to her development of ovarian cancer.  This week, an appellate Missouri court reversed the decision to award Ms. Fox the $72 million indicating that...

For some reason, humans enjoy making predictions of death and destruction. From politicians to fanatical religious leaders, there is a lot of money to be made telling people that Earth is toast.

Of course, the predictions never come true, but that doesn't prevent doomsayers from making more of them. "One of these days, it will be true," they warn, as they wag their wrinkly finger in our faces.

The most famous finger-wagger was Thomas Malthus, who said that the world population would grow so large that we couldn't feed ourselves anymore. He was wrong, but that didn't stop Paul Ehrlich from resuscitating his argument 170 years later in The Population Bomb. He was wrong, too, but that didn't stop Quartz from reanimating this ideological corpse once again.