Global Quickies, First Try

Welcome to the first edition of Global Quickies! They’re like regular Quickies, only slightly longer, with a less regular schedule, and will probably include weird phrasing and spelling mistakes due to my less-than-perfect English skills. So, yeah, not very much like regular Quickies.

Many of you said you wanted to see more international skeptical news on Skepchick and this is what we came up with: I’ll post 3-5 news items from around the world (i.e. not the US, light on other English-speaking countries) and I will comment a bit on each one. Since I’m a Latin-American living in southern Europe, most of the news items that find their way to my browser are from those regions, so please help me out and send me links to things you would like to see featured in the Global Quickies through the Skepchick contact form.

Today I’ll start with easy ones:


Remember how back in the 1990’s Randi debunked “substance detectors” that were supposed to find bombs, drugs, ivory, laundered money, illegal immigrants (really), etc, and it turned out they where just empty boxes with an antenna and no functioning parts? And how the maker of a similar product was arrested for fraud in the UK in 2010? Well, several security forces in Mexico (the army, local police, even the national oil company) have spent over $20 million on these “molecular detectors” and are still using them despite warnings from the British government about their ineffectiveness, pleas from local scientists to do double-blind tests on the devices, and the Human Rights Commission denouncing their use in searches. Why the Human Rights Commission? Because false positives of these dowsing rods are getting people arrested, and the device’s results are being used as evidence in trials. (This is not really a new item, but I’ve been meaning to talk about it here for a long time).



Pierre Dukan, creator of the protein-rich Dukan diet, faces ethics hearings following complaints by the French College of Physicians. The Dukan diet is a multimillion dollar business and it’s a favorite among celebrities (and all of my coworkers). The complaints being made are for practicing medicine like a business and making remarks that could harm teenagers with weight issues. In January, Dukan suggested that teenagers get extra points in their Baccalaureate exams for being within the recommended weight ranges. The French medical guidelines say doctors must consider the impact of their comments on the public.



(Also not so new item).
In March, Argentina decriminalized abortion in all cases of rape. The ruling by the supreme court upheld the decision made last year by a lower court in the case of a 15-year old girl who became pregnant after her stepfather raped her.

It is actually not a new law, but a clarification on the existing law that allowed abortion in cases where the health of the mother was at risk, or when “the pregnancy comes from rape or the assault on the modesty of an idiot or demented woman”. Hmm, yeah. Due to that strange wording, it had never been clear if the law meant that only “idiot or demented” rape victims where allowed access to abortions, or if it included all rape victims. Just to be on the safe side, it was generally interpreted that it did not include all victims. Doctors, afraid of being prosecuted, often only performed legal abortions if presented with court documents. With this ruling, a rape victim now only needs to state the fact that she’s been raped to have access to an abortion.



The severe economic troubles of Spain are hitting science more than other areas. Back in February, an article published in Nature already called these cuts “scientific suicide” . But when the actual budget was announced, it turned out that the cuts are even harsher than anticipated , and higher than the average cuts in other ministries. Lay-offs in labs are already a reality, research animals are being put down, and young scientists are looking for jobs in other countries. The long-term consequences could be devastating for the scientific future of the country. Spanish scientists and skeptics are putting together short videos called “Sin ciencia no hay futuro” (Without Science There’s No Future). You can find them on Twitter and Youtube under the hashtag #SinCiencia, including a couple by contributors.


On a lighter note, next Sunday, during the Gastrocanarias food festival in Spain, artist Oliver Behrmann and the cook Carlos Gamonal will perform an autopsy on a 60kg green alien made out of jelly and candy. The performance is based on this famous Ray Santilli hoax video of a supposed autopsy of an alien from the Roswell crash. The candy will be later served to the public.
If you can’t make it to the Canary Islands in time to watch this, here’s the promotional video.


I’ll try to make this feature a regular one, and I’ll try to touch on more recent news items and less “things I’ve been meaning to talk about on Skepchick” items, but it will depend a lot on your interest and the links you wonderful readers send in.


Featured image from the Alienatthehotel Facebook page. Check out all the awesome pics they have there.


Born and raised in Mexico City, Daniela has finally decided to abdicate her post as an armchair skeptic and start doing some skeptical activism. She is currently living in Spain after having lived in the US, Brazil and Italy. You can also find her blogging in Spanish at

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  1. Thanks, Daniela! This is an awesome wrap-up and I look forward to future installments.

    Those of you in non-US (particularly non-English) countries, please do send in your news tips!

  2. You know the really stupid thing with those detectors? Some recent studies suggest that dogs are not that good at finding things either. Seems, in a proper double blind situation, the dogs are keying in on subtle clues from their handlers, not on the drugs, explosives, etc. So, as long as you don’t “profile”, or otherwise do something to catch the interest of the guy with the dog, and you have your illegal stuff wrapped up really well, the dog will go right by you, the bad, the box, or what ever else the stuff may be on/in.

    Of course, this isn’t a huge problem, if the people involved are trained like those in countries where behavior profiling is used, and success is dependent on actually picking out the people that show signs of being a problem. Its a much **bigger** problem if you are trained to think the dog is the one picking the people out of the crowd, so skip over the real drug runner, because you accidentally made the dog nose around someone wearing a shirt you don’t like, or some stupid BS.

    But, at least the dogs “can” work, in cases where they do detect the smell, where as this other crap never has, never will, and once again, the law fails to do the proper job of making the sale of useless crap, that doesn’t do anything, illegal, instead of just fining the people involved some mediocre sum of money, then letting them sell it anyway (a problem we have with products like Zicam, which can cause permanent nerve damage in the nose, unless they removed the zinc in it, since I last heard, and Airborne, which, despite being sued over it, and told to stop lying, still says it was tested some place that doesn’t exist, by a person that doesn’t exist, after being invented by a teacher that doesn’t exist, and does things it flat out doesn’t do). When the hell is someone going to hold this crap actually accountable, not just slap the hands of the sellers, tell them, “Bad boy”, then let them keep doing it anyway? I would think that it should be a) fraud, and b) a repeat offense, with c) escalating penalties, at the bloody least, even if the law makers don’t have the damn guts to say, “You can’t do it *ever*, and the first time means jail, not a fine.” Sigh…

    1. The dog problem was the subject of a recent Quickies in which an experienced dog handler commented in detail, to the effect that we know that dogs are good at scent work, but that these dogs had had their training ruined.

      It seems to me that scent work is a test like any other and can be described by Baysian statistics in terms of sensitivity, specificity and predictive value.

      The argument then becomes similar to that against screening big populations – what do you do with the false positives and false negatives?

      e.g. screening for ovarian cancer with Ca125 should not be done, (despite calls for such on the Internet) as you will scare a lot of people (with false positives)and at the same time miss a lot of others (with false negatives). The test is useful for monitoring treatment/recurrence of an existing cancer, however.

      There is such a thing as an inappropriate situation to use a test, particularly as with dogs if you are degrading the performance of the dog/trainer team.

      Of course the probes are totally bogus under any circumstances and represent a completely different situation i.e.fraud.

  3. Thanks for all your comments!

    I’ll try to make this feature as regular as possible.

  4. Daniela,

    That Jello Alien Dissection looks fun and tasty. I hope the real aliens don’t like to eat us as much as we like to eat them. LOL!

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