Monday, February 25, 2008

Aliens, Spirits, or Sleep Paralysis?

Aliens, Spirits, or Sleep Paralysis?

Some people claim they’ve been abducted by aliens while sleeping, where they’re transported through walls and onto alien ships, then probed, prodded, and poked. This has led people to devise various techniques to prevent these night time abductions: You can build your own Stop Alien Abduction Helmut, you could buy a book called How to Defend Yourself Against Alien Abduction, or you could fall back on the old practice of prayer (if it works against demons it’s got to work against aliens).

People who claim to be abducted in their sleep typically report being conscious yet are unable to move their limbs or talk, and they hear odd sounds and see lights, and have a feeling that they’re being watched. The most reasonable explanation for these experiences is Sleep Paralysis. This is where “a person wakes up paralyzed, senses a presence in the room, feels fear or even terror, and may hear buzzing and humming noises or see strange lights. A visible or invisible entity may even sit on their chest, shaking, strangling, or prodding them.”[1]

Sleep paralysis offers a good explanation for strange “encounters” of sleeping people from various cultures throughout the world. These include Hag Riding in Europe and parts of North America, where a witch attacks a sleeping victim; and Kanashibari in Japan, sometimes described as a devil stepping on a sleeping person’s chest; and Kokma in St. Lucia, which is described as the spirit of a dead baby that jumps on a sleeper’s chest and chokes him; and Popobawa in Zanzibar, which is a ghost-like creature with bat wings that sodomizes men in their sleep. Frankly, that last one seems quite frightful to me.

The fear that accompanies sleep paralysis can be very real for those who believe it involves aliens or malevolent spirits. But rest assured, this is a medically documented phenomenon. Here’s a website that offers good advice on how to cope with sleep paralysis. There are also certain medications that can help if you talk to a physician (not a homeopath, please). Sweat dreams.


[1]. Blackmore, Susan. (May/June 1998) “Abduction by Aliens or Sleep Paralysis?”
Skeptical Inquirer, p.25. Link to article here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Quackery and the Law

In the United States all products marketed as drugs must be tested in order to guarantee their relative safety before being made available to the public. There is one exception to this law. Homeopathic 'remedies' can be marketed as drugs but are except from the same safety standards as other drugs.

This goes back to 1938 when a former homeopath-turned-Senator (Royal Copeland of New York) added a provision to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that exempted homeopathy from the same oversight by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that other drugs receive. Homeopathic 'remedies' require no proof that they're safe or effective in order to be marketed and sold, unlike other drugs.

Herbal and other supplements are in a different boat. If an herb or supplement is marketed with the claim that it will cure a disease or illness, then it must be reviewed by the FDA before going to market. If there's no claim to a cure, then the FDA doesn't really make an issue of it (unless the product has been shown to cause harm). Of course, one way to get around this is to use customer testimonials. As long as the customers are giving testimonials, and they reflect the customers' honest beliefs about their experiences, then it's fair game, but that's an issue for another blog.

The point is that homeopathic 'remedies' can claim to cure disease and illness (unlike herbs and supplements), and they don't need to be tested to prove that they actually work.

Robert L. Park, in his book Voodoo Science, points out that the smoking-cessation chewing gum Nicorette had to be proven safe and effective through numerous clinical trials before it could be marketed. Whereas on the same shelf in the same store you might find another smoking-cessation gum called CigArrest. This product required no clinical trials to test its safety and effectiveness because the manufacturers claimed that the gum was homeopathic.(1).

Since homeopathic 'remedies' have no active ingredients, there would be nothing to test for in a clinical trial. But homeopaths can still claim that it's a cure. As Park points out, locating the active ingredients in homeopathic 'remedies' "would be like trying to prove that holy water has been blessed."(2).

1. Park, Robert L. (2000). Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 58.

2. Ibid, p. 58.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Florida Evolution Update

Florida Evolution Update

I've been informed by a reliable authority that the Florida School Board's 4-3 decision to require that evolution be taught in public schools is in fact a victory for evolution, even though the science standards will now refer to evolution as "the scientific theory of evolution."

It would seems that conservative Christians were lobbying the school board to refer to evolution as a theory, in the sense that evolution is only a theory, as in a hunch or a guess.

Well, the school board granted this request, but not how you might imagine. They decided that the phrase "the scientific theory of..." will precede a host of scientific theories such as evolution, plate tectonics, relativity, and so on.

What's great is that these science standards explicitely state that "a scientific theory represents the most powerful explanation scientists have to offer." And the standards also state that evolution is a "fundamental concept underlying all of biology."

I don't think the conservative Christians were pleased with this move by the school board. I'm glad I was wrong in my initial blog (which I've deleted). This is good news indeed.

Here's a link to a report about the Florida decision by the National Center for Science Education.