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Worst And/Or Craziest Misconceptions

You run into a lot of scientific and medical misconceptions (particularly when you have a blog with a working e-mail address plastered on the front page of it!) There are plenty of harmless ones that are easy to correct, and at the other end of the scale there are major weltanschauung problems (like the “drug companies don’t want to find a cure for cancer because it would put them out of business” line). Those involve what Kingsley Amis called “permanent tendencies of the heart and mind”, and I’m not sure if they can be fixed at all.
I got to thinking about this subject again after seeing this item, which is pointing out to physicians that a meaningful number of their patients may well opt out of surgery for cancer because they believe that cancer spreads when exposed to air. This turns out to be a common enough belief that it’s addressed on many medical sites. It’s not one that I’d heard before, and I thought I’d heard quite a few of these.
So, in the spirit of discussions like this one, I’ll toss out these questions: what’s the farthest-from-reality misconception about medical/pharma topics you’ve encountered? And what widespread one do you think does the most harm? (Warning about that link: it goes to a hugely long thread, which will soak up your time as you continue running into yet-more-ridiculous beliefs that people have expressed).
My own candidates: the weirdest one I’ve encountered might be the person who still believed in spontaneous generation (that old bread just sort of “turned into” living mold, etc.). And the most harmful one, from a drug research perspective, might well be the constellation of “the government does all drug research” beliefs, or the one mentioned above, the “drug companies don’t want to cure X” one, which shades into the “drug companies have a cure for X but they don’t want to release it” belief.

149 comments on “Worst And/Or Craziest Misconceptions”

  1. bearing says:

    The wording on that “cancer spreads by air” article was oddly ambiguous and left me unsure if they meant that people believed
    (a) When exposed to air, a cancer can spread to other sites in the body
    or
    (b) Cancer is an airborne contagion and can spread to other people when it is exposed to the air.

  2. Innovorich says:

    Vaccination causes autism.

  3. Virgil says:

    I guess the big one I hear all the time, is that you will catch a cold (i.e., rhinovirus) if you get cold (i.e., you’re exposed to cold temperatures). Granted, exposure to extremely cold air may do things to your upper respiratory tract that make it more susceptible to infection, but the cold temperature itself is not the cause of the disease. If it was, Eskimos, polar bears and penguins would be sneezing all the time. Clearly these people (usually grandmothers) have not heard of germ theory.

  4. SP says:

    The vaccination/autism doesn’t score too high on the farthest-from-reality scale- at least there was a plausible hypothesis that was tested- but now that the results are in it’s the clear winner in doing the most harm (and continuing to ignore the evidence takes them farther from reality every year.)

  5. Chemjobber says:

    Met a gentleman who believed that he had grass allergies because he drank milk, and cows ate grass. Therefore, he was exposed to grass, etc., etc.
    He thought it was a crazy theory, too, I note.

  6. The belief that “natural” therapies are always better than “artificial” ones like drugs might just be up there somewhere.

  7. Gil Roth says:

    The CIA created AIDS?

  8. SP says:

    3- My grandmother thought you got hemorrhoids from sitting on cold benches or cold concrete.

  9. bhip says:

    Mental illness (depression, bipolar, etc) springs from weakness rather than neurochemical imbalance. It’s akin to disparaging type 1 diabetics because they can’t make enough insulin….

  10. Brian says:

    Snake oil in general:
    People who actually believe that, say, aloe vera water is a cure-all. And having tried that to no effect, are still willing and able to actually believe that high-pH water is a cure-all. And having tried that to no effect, are STILL willing and able to believe that magnetic mattress pads are a cure all. And having tried that…
    Oh, and that there is an active conspiracy to suppress knowledge and use of all of these cure-alls. What kind of thought process enables this thinking?

  11. opsomath says:

    I vaguely recall seeing an article in a first-tier journal suggesting something functionally equivalent to the cancer-by-air thing, relatively recently. Like, large well-defined tumors secrete some kind of signal that actually suppresses growth of cancer cells in other places, so that surgery can actually contribute to metastasis in some cases? Or was it that surgery can physically spread cancer cells through the body? Or am I mixing up two separate things that can happen?
    I can’t remember well, but it might well be that those spreads-by-air guys are getting a sometimes-right answer for the wrong reason. Anyone know about this?

  12. Innovorich says:

    3 & 8 – the Eastern european equivalent of this is called “squazniak”. It’s lethal! The literal translation is “draft” or “breeze”. Most people (I kid you not!) in Eastern europe (inc. Ukraine and Russia) believe that a small draft of wind is what causes cold & flu. Btw – it’s why old women wear scarves over their heads all the time. If you are on a bus and it’s 90 degrees F and people are sweating, coughing and spluttering into the unrefreshed stagnant air, everyone will refuse to open the window for fear that squazniak will make them ill!

  13. Drug Developer says:

    Farthest from reality: Homeopathy!
    Most harmful: Vaccine-autism link.

  14. Ed says:

    My wife is a teacher, and the mother of one of the pupils in her class seriously believes that she keeps getting pregnant because she is unusually susceptible to *something in the air*
    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry….

  15. Karel Capek says:

    Exposing yourself to radon is a curative.
    Check it out:
    http://www.radonmine.com/

  16. lt says:

    I think worst scientific/medical misconception is that there are other, just as valid ways of learning about the nature of reality besides the scientific method.

  17. CancerMann says:

    The cancer-by-air belief is perfectly justified since everyone knows that cells need oxygen to grow. The more oxygen you expose them to, the more they grow.

  18. Big Ag says:

    Working for an ag biotech company, I never cease to be surprised at the fertile imagination of the public. The most illogical myth is that ag chem companies don’t care about evolution of resistance to their insecticides, herbicides, etc. Why would any company *want* their products to become ineffective?

  19. Sam says:

    Sharks don’t get cancer (false). Therefore you should take shark cartilage (which I’m conveniently willing to sell you!) to cure/prevent cancer.

  20. anon the II says:

    How ’bout the one about how resveratrol might be useful as a drug? Or that it has some curative properties? Or that it’s worth $750 M? Or that it’s ever worth discussing again after I hit “post”?

  21. non3 says:

    “the weirdest one I’ve encountered might be the person who still believed in spontaneous generation”
    So how did we get on this planet? ๐Ÿ™‚

  22. Mercury in fillings causes MS (promulgated by a 60 Minutes program). I’d cringe whenever they did anything remotely touching on neurologic disease — it meant that I’d essentially be cleaning up after the elephants had passed with all my patients with that disease.
    Another one is that I was experimenting on a patient whenever I’d prescribe a drug which had a less than 100% chance of working (which is all of them).

  23. Laura says:

    The one that drives me completely teeth-gnashing-crazy is that “natural products or plant derived stuff” are 100% safe …unlike those evil chemicals. Gah!

  24. Paul says:

    So how did we get on this planet? ๐Ÿ™‚
    Panspermia? ๐Ÿ™‚

  25. weird guy says:

    HIV doesn’t exist.

  26. daveh says:

    My mom’s “allergic to generic drugs”. I formulate pharmaceutical dosage forms for a living. You can imagine my consternation.

  27. Word says:

    Linus Pauling taking grams of vitamin C every day.

  28. Anonymous says:

    My father-in-law explained to me that he lost his hair because he once went out in the snow with no hat on. Of course, I’ve lost my hair and I definitely went out in the snow with no hat on as a kid, so maybe he’s onto something.

  29. Todd says:

    @12.Innovorich: Here in Germany it is called the Durchzug and it, too, causes colds and other illnesses.

  30. Irondoc says:

    Not an illness misconception, but one I get ALL the time:
    pharmacist = medicinal chemist
    (Usually in the context of “What do you do for a living?”; answer “I’m a medicinal chemist”; reply, “Oh, my niece also works at a pharmacy”)

  31. Philip says:

    I am going to get it for this one. We do not need medications to help the obese. They just need to eat less and exercise more.

  32. Mike says:

    It’s already been mentioned, but the common medical/pharma misconception that annoys me the most is the belief that anything natural is safe and anything synthetic is dangerous.

  33. Burd says:

    That a pregnant woman can influence the gender of the baby by what she eats.

  34. JT says:

    1. vaccines cause autism
    2. man made climate change
    3. massive and pervasive use of antibiotics is good for us

  35. J. Peterson says:

    Imagine a drug company has two research projects involving the same chronic disease. One cures the disease in a week, the other requires you take a dose every day for the rest of your life to manage the symptoms.
    I don’t work in the field. But it’s pretty easy to imagine the company will like the second project over the first.

  36. leftscienceawhileago says:

    I had a conversation with a doctor who insisted that the “tounge map” was real.

  37. Chemjobber says:

    @10: After I gave a long (and incredibly convincing) comment to a lady about the importance of basic scientific research (NIH, NSF) to the world of medicine, the lady came back with “What about the healing properties of aloe vera?”

  38. Jimbo says:

    If I am wrong I humbly beg but I thought it was well established that removing a primary tumor could seed or start distant mets. Not that it “spreads” the tumor but activates circulating cancer stem cells (if you believe in them) or those that are lodged and dormant. Isnt that what led Folkman to develop his theories about angiogenesis/distance acting factors etc. after seeing distant mets pop up after people he operated on had tumors removed?

  39. Electrochemist says:

    Pharmaceutical company mergers create shareholder value

  40. ProteinChemist says:

    @11,39: Isn’t iatrogenic the term for inadvertently spreading a tumor during surgical intervention? I’ve seen it discussed as a risk in needle biopsies, though admittedly this was a few years back in school, so I may be remembering it incorrectly. As far as the distant activation, theories involving tumor associated macrophages (TAMs) being involved in metastasis are getting a lot of interest.

  41. Copper really? says:

    Copper and/or magnetic bracelets have special healing powers.

  42. Dan says:

    Let’s broaden this a bit: “And the top ten things that make scientists shutter are:”
    10. Global warming is a hoax
    9. “Organic chemistry, for all its troubles, still tends to be more reproducible, on average, than molecular biology, and at a less picky level of detail” (Zing!)
    9. “Biologists seem, on average, to go into much more granular detail about their experiments when presenting” (Bazinga!)
    7. Heavy objects fall faster
    6. The moon landing was staged
    5. You’ll catch a cold if you go outside with a wet head
    4. Photoshopping western blots is ethical
    3. Vaccinations do cause Autism
    2. HIV does not cause AIDS
    And, the number one thing that make scientists shutter is:
    1. Science doesn’t prove anything, my (insert faith here) does.
    Sorry Derek, but I couldn’t resist poking fun regarding the May 1st post: “Chemists and Biologist, in Detail.”

  43. Mr Science says:

    AIDS in humans was started by men having sex with monkeys

  44. Ginsberg says:

    RNA interference is the next big thing in drug innovation.

  45. Hel says:

    The one that drives me completely teeth-gnashing-crazy is that “natural products or plant derived stuff” are 100% safe …unlike those evil chemicals. Gah!
    I’m with Laura on this one. Foodies can get a bit over the top. I had one ask me why I thought radishes even existed if not for us to eat. Huh?
    Zz

  46. James says:

    35 – but even if you have the option of creating either of these two breakthrough drugs…
    If you choose the one which requires regular dosing anybody who creates a more convenient drug will have the advantage. There’s more than one drug company in existence in this hypothetical scenario, right?

  47. ba says:

    A family aquaintance recently mentioned to me that he didn’t hate drug companies as much as he used to because he heard they were “getting into generics.” On probing further, I realized that he thought the only difference between generic drugs and name brand drugs was that the generic companies don’t try to market their drugs under a brand name.
    And this guy is not anti-science/conspiracy theory, etc…

  48. Chemjobber says:

    38: I heard Folkman give a lecture in 2007/2008 and I believe I heard similar ideas.

  49. That Reddit link is some of the funniest sh!t I’ve read. Sadly, it is also why it took me until my upper 30’s to find a girl I was willing to spend any length of time with.
    Last I heard, neo-adjuvant chemotherapy is done to minimize metastasis. Surgeons hate cutting into large tumors with all those blood vessels. That apparently contributes to post surgery metastasis. I had never heard of the exposed to air thing, that’s some crazy stuff.
    1. Chiropractors! I know this might start something, but… Their hypothesis does not stand up to the simplest of scientific evaluation. The largest snake oil organisation ever!
    2. MD/RD/nutritionist to diabetics — Eat more whole grains. Really, you want them to eat more sugar.
    3. Vaccines = autism.
    4. I love homeopathy. You dissolve a chemical in water, then serial dilute it until there is no probability of any of that substance being in the solution, but the water has magic memory powers that make it heal you. Pretty awesome!
    5. Students in my friends CC physics class who actually believe that aliens left dinosaur bones on earth to throw disbelief in creationism. Yes, Darwin fell for the alien plot!
    6. Medically educated people with high triglyceride levels that cannot figure out why their high carbohydrate low fat diet is causing that problem.
    7. By far my favorite is Natural = Chemical Free. Since when did those grass clippings in your herbal supplement not have chemicals?
    8. The entire population of people who do not believe any of the science today but run to doctors for cures based off of the science they do not believe in. They are numerous and growing, and they are causing larger and larger cuts to research funding (heck, some techniques too… stem cells anyone). This seems to be causing a feedback loop… See, your science doesn’t work because we would have cures for everything if it did… I’m sick, please fix me doc… You can’t, why aren’t we researching that… Cut funding, science doesn’t work because they can’t fix me. Yadda, yadda…

  50. weirdo says:

    Hey J. Peterson:
    “I don’t work in the field. But it’s pretty easy to imagine ”
    HORSE S**T. The first project would get prioritized over the second every day and twice on Sundays. Having a drug one only needs to take for a week or two, over a drug taken forever, is a dream (think antibiotics). The tox issues alone make that worth the gamble.
    And, if it really “cured”, the cost would be a hell of a lot less of an issue.
    It is exactly these kinds of BS “concerns” that drive those in the business bonkers.

  51. Jack Vinson says:

    I agree with the “natural” or “organic” belief that is better than the other stuff. I particularly like to ponder the values of “inorganic” foodstuffs. Yum, crunchy!

  52. cynical1 says:

    The weirdest one I heard was when my wife was in a nursing home/rehab and the lady that she was sharing a room with went into great detail telling us that the reason that we get bacterial infections is because we were born with “original sin”. I just looked at her and told her that even Jesus had bacteria growing inside him. She didn’t like me very much after that. Oh well.

  53. MTK says:

    It’s not necessarily the worst or craziest but it got my dander up like nothing else.
    This woman was sitting next to me at a local gathering hole and asked me what I did. I told her I was a chemist and worked at a pharma company. Her response was “I’m sure you’re pretty smart. Did you ever think of using your brain for good instead of what you’re doing now?”
    I was truly flabbergasted (and I don’t flabber or gast too easily). Not only at the statement, but at the temerity to say it right to me.
    I excused myself and found another stool.

  54. Watson says:

    “The FDA is busting raw-milk producers on behalf of big Pharma”

  55. Cellbio says:

    @ J Peterson. Absolutely wrong. With everything else being equal (adverse events etc) the economics of the cure are much better. Also, if company A can achieve the cure, but markets the chronic therapy, companies B through Z will try to steal the market with their own cure, so why would you invest 100s of millions to a billion to get a drug to market that is inferior? The argument also ignores market growth through new incidence of disease through population growth and aging.
    My personal selection for the misconception that bugs me most is from within, namely, the news and hype associated with research findings that claim that a biological observation in an experimental system means a cure for human suffering is imminent, because you know, the part about making a selective safe drug to copy the phenotype of a mouse KO or RNAi, or to hit a gene identified as a risk factor for disease is the easy part. Pick up any high profile journal, read the intro and summary of 10 papers and you are very likely to see great over reaching.

  56. kling says:

    Breast cancer awareness is breast cancer research

  57. RDH says:

    Years ago, my mother picked up a prescription for a sick friend. On delivering it, her friend insisted on paying for it immediately or “it won’t work.”
    Colloidal silver is also one of my pet peeves. I have a husband and wife who are poster children for systemic argyria; he developed neuropathy and they both deeply regret ever having been involved with it.
    A few patient comments I’ve heard over the years:
    “Fluoride was used by the Nazis to keep people stupid.”
    “I won’t vaccinate my kids for chicken pox. No one dies of that.”
    “I can’t take statin drugs. I use red yeast rice. It’s natural.”
    “I saw Dr X (a local homeopath) for a cold. He gave me an ozone treatment and antioxidants and I got better in a few days.”
    “Do you get paid by the drug companies for prescribing their drugs?” (Followed by the typical Big Pharma/FDA/AMA Conspiracy rant.)
    “Did you go to a *government* medical school?” (Again, followed by the usual rant.)
    “I had pancreatic cancer. I only had a few months to live. Dr Y cured me by taking out my teeth and treating my NICO jaw infection.”
    Yes, really.
    Slightly off topic, I knew of a old rancher who managed his anticoagulation (successfully!) using D-Con because warfarin “was too expensive.”

  58. Grad Student says:

    Farthest from reality: Jesus is going to cure your disease; you just need to pray harder.

  59. Nathan says:

    Concept of GOD

  60. Anonymous says:

    To those responding to 35, you are overthinking it. We in the research community and our families are just as prone to death from cancer as the general population. To suggest we would intentionally not pursue a cure for cancer or any other disease for financial gain is beyond ignorant.

  61. Anonymous says:

    I think this is crazy but not completely without merit. Hydrazine cures cancer.
    http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/cam/hydrazinesulfate/patient/page1

  62. Canageek says:

    @Word: I thought that was a thing he did? Is it really a myth that he megadosed on Vitamin C?
    @J. Peterson: I can see them putting out the does-a-day one first, but you know, when that goes generic? You can bet they are going to put out the cure.
    That is the big problem with the ‘They’d only put out one a days’: Sure, that works for 20 years, but then generics go and sell it for 1/10th the price.
    Also: Imagine how much money the company that cured AIDS would make, even if they gave the drug away for free? Just slap a “From the people who cured AIDS” label on every over-the-counter drug they sell.

  63. RKN says:

    Masturbation leads to blindness.

  64. El Selectride says:

    Eating Genetically-Modified Organisms will modify your genome.

  65. Wile E. Coyote, Genius says:

    For those that keep inserting religion into this, you should watch the Richard Dawkins interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlZtEjtlirc
    It really is quite humorous.
    Bottom line of the youtube video: Per Dawkins, God could not have created life on earth, but it is possible that aliens from another planet did.

  66. MoMo says:

    That mercury in vaccines, dental implants and HFCS has no effect.
    It is defintely considered a source for neurological damage by many, many studies.
    But only the Lobbyists know for sure!

  67. Innovorich says:

    @J.Peterson – most of the people here work in the pharma industry and I’m telling you, finding a cure like you describe is a dream and exactly what brings us to work every day. I promise you, no-one is designing projects in the way you describe!
    Believe me – a cure for cancer would be worth $trillions!! You can bet we’re looking for it – it’s just really really hard to find!
    Thanks for illustrating the point of Derek’s request so well though! ๐Ÿ˜‰

  68. juice says:

    I have a mother in law who believes that you can ‘turn cancer off’ by only drinking veggie juice thanks to that BS ‘China Study’ book.

  69. Cialisize Me says:

    Myth in the general population that Viagra and Cialis can cause 4 hour erections. The 4-hr warning is meant for the few people that might suffer from serious priapism unrelated to taking the drugs, but they could believe that their engorgement was the drug effect. Hence the warning to see a Dr. if it lasts too long.
    C-Me

  70. Pig Farmer says:

    Male Enhancement (Smiling Bob and his ilk).

  71. PATS says:

    @ 44 Ginsberg, POC of RNA therapeutics has been already achieved and the reality is hampered by the lack of proper delivery technology today. Light at the end of the tunnel is not too far for the believers of RNA WORLD.

  72. CET says:

    @70
    Dammit! I want my money back.

  73. Chris Swain says:

    My wife (a PhD chemist) once had an shop assistant try to sell her makeup that was guaranteed to contain no chemicals. I went and coffee while they debated the topic.

  74. Magpie says:

    Didn’t Michelle Bachman one-up the ‘autism via vaccination’ fallacy by asserting that vaccines can cause retardation?

  75. chain mail says:

    For a few years, I was getting this chain mail on how Bananas are the cure-all. Also, monkeys don’t get pimples because they just loooove bananas, and so should you. *snicker*

  76. Anonymous says:

    alien life form is more advanced and breathe nitrogen

  77. Anonymous says:

    powerlines cause cancer

  78. okemist says:

    After telling someone I was working on a cancer drug 2 days ago, they insisted there will never be a cure because it would put pharma out of bussiness.
    @27 and 63 Pauling did take grams of Vit C a day, what is less known is he washed them down with quarts of gin, which one led to the longevity???
    One last one I had never heard, my wife insists she got frost bite on her chin as a child, and now her chin is very sensitive to the cold because of it?

  79. Nathan says:

    the word discovery in ‘drug discovery’; shouldn’t it be ‘innovation’ if we made a drug molecule which never existed in nature before?

  80. Watson says:

    “Dead-baby pills increase stamina”

  81. SP says:

    Astrology. My high school astronomy teacher liked to do the calculation of relative gravitational effect of planets vs. jet planes flying over you. He wanted to start a field called jetology where for an appropriate fee he would find exactly what planes were in the air at the time of your birth and speculate on how that would affect your life.

  82. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    The fallacy behind many misconceptions is giving anecdotes and/or subjective belief greater weight than statistical evidence through some combination of inability to comprehend statistical reasoning and/or distrust of the institutions doing the analysis.
    As for cancer, my company has two in-house awards for R&D employees in memory of BMS executives who died of cancer. I knew one of them pretty well. Some of my own friends and relatives have diseases on which I personally have done research.
    It is nice to get paid, since I’m not amonk, and the science can be fascinating, but those of us working in the R&D labs do care very much about people with the diseases we study. I work with computers, analyzing data. They use very similar statistical data mining tools on Wall Street. If money were my sole object in life, I would have gone to work for some investment banker back in the 1990s, or maybe got a law degree and gone into patent law (it is very hard to find lawyers who understand biotech). I would have hated the work.

  83. Fred says:

    Take heed you arrogant scientists…..”what gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so?”
    We understand so little of the biophysics of it all yet we confidently proclaim than if you inhibit this or antagonize that you will have a treatment for this or that.

  84. paperclip says:

    One friend thought that, as a chemist, my job was trying to get things to blow up each day. I told him it’s a *bad* day when something blows up.
    In a more medical topic, another friend swears by those juice fasts/detox diets sorts of things. She prides herself on being rational and skeptical, but on this she won’t hear a word about how such diets are unnecessary and that we naturally have quite a detox system of our own.

  85. Sunshine says:

    -There are dogs who can smell people with cancer.

  86. darwin says:

    Eating cornflakes prevents blindness…indirectly.

  87. SP says:

    64 + 92 implies that eating cornflakes could prevent masturbation.

  88. Master Bates says:

    @Darwin, brilliant.

  89. Anon says:

    @79
    I read a book by a guy who described having serious frostbite (like, partial finger amputation serious). He said that the affected area was significantly more vulnerable to having frostbite again afterwards. But unless your wife had part of her chin amputated for frostbite, I doubt the relevance.

  90. Rick Wobbe says:

    Economics

  91. Clinical pharmacologist says:

    Microwaving food destroys its nutritional value because it “reverses the electrons”.

  92. Niv says:

    I’m very very much surprised that no one has mentioned this one yet. This was the sole cause of most genocides in the world and is in fact still a widely believed concept in certain parts of the world.
    Through the discovery of genetics, certain (outdated hopefully) scientists have claimed that certain human races are superior than others and hence are naturally selected to be superior beings meant to rule over others, purge the tainted genetic failures and protect the purity of these superior races. THIS is the GREATEST tragedy that mis-used medical science/ scientific concept has created to date in my opinion.
    I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, because too many have been guilty of initiating this belief, carrying it out and seen it come to fruition.
    I’m an Environmental Science graduate. It was Dr. David Suzuki who opened my eyes on biotechnology mis-usage.

  93. Niv says:

    I’m very very much surprised that no one has mentioned this one yet. This was the sole cause of most genocides in the world and is in fact still a widely believed concept in certain parts of the world.
    Through the discovery of genetics, certain (outdated hopefully) scientists have claimed that certain human races are superior than others and hence are naturally selected to be superior beings meant to rule over others, purge the tainted genetic failures and protect the purity of these superior races. THIS is the GREATEST tragedy that mis-used medical science/ scientific concept has created to date in my opinion.
    I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, because too many have been guilty of initiating this belief, carrying it out and seen it come to fruition.
    I’m an Environmental Science graduate. It was Dr. David Suzuki who opened my eyes on biotechnology mis-usage.

  94. Donough says:

    From an chemical engineer.
    People complaining about the pollution a plant is causing while using cooling tower emissions (water vapour) as an example.

  95. Morgan says:

    @11,39 &40
    As I heard it from Falkman at a conference many years ago, they made the observation that there were often ‘satellite tumors’ that had metastasized through the body before surgery, but lay dormant until the large, well-defined tumor was removed. Finding this trend to be puzzling, they looked into it.
    They found that the large tumors secreted both growth signals (in large amounts and with very short half-lifes) and supressor signals (in moderate amounts, but with long enough half-lifes to circulate) for new blood vessels. The tumors were essentially competing for blood supply, forcing local vacularization and keeping systemic blood vessel growth lower. That suppressor of neovascularization was angiostatin….

  96. whoever says:

    I was in a cab once. The driver asked me what I do for a living, & I told him I’m a chemist at a pharmaceutical company. When he heard that, he had a question for me: “So when you give your prescription to a pharmacist, and then he goes in the back, and twenty minutes later he comes out with the drug… is he making the drug?”

  97. LambdaEyde says:

    @42 “7. Heavy objects fall faster” – This is actually true with certain modifications. In air (not in a vacuum, this is the real world) objects with a higher mass to surface area ratio will fall faster. I.e. a 1 cm ball of lead will fall faster than a similarly sized ball of styrofoam. Likewise, a paper plane made out of sturdy cardboard is obviously a better flyer than one made of sheet metal. This is because drag, the force acting in the opposite direction of travel, is dependent only on surface area (and a certain coefficient) and not on mass. As most of us know, the force of gravity is calcualated as G = m*g. Taking the sum of the forces would involve subtracting the drag from the gravitational force (absolute values, not vectors). Considering two similarly sized spheres of different weight, the one with the largest mass would have the largest force (or sum of forces) driving it down to the ground, and in turn, the highest acceleration.
    Back on topic… Homeopathy and astrology are things that I can’t understand how people are even able to believe in them. They’re just so damn absurd claims.
    Something that really, REALLY pisses me off is when people uses “E numbers” as a derogatory term, like the food additives will give you cancer, autism and whatnot. That E300 is gonna screw you up badly!

  98. Anonymous says:

    Reversing the direction of stirring can give back starting material in Michael Addittion and Cycloadditions etc

  99. ANON Chemist says:

    @ j. Peterson
    I am with wierdo The cure wins hands down…for a lot of reasons..

  100. ANON Chemist says:

    @ j. Peterson
    I am with wierdo The cure wins hands down…for a lot of reasons..

  101. ANON Chemist says:

    I am with wierdo:
    The cure wins hands down for many reasons…

  102. Secondaire says:

    # 30 – I get that too. All the time.
    A number of years ago I was sitting next to a woman on an airplane, whom, when I told her I was a medicinal chemist working (at the time) in cancer drug development, went on this long rant about how “chemo” was this massive conspiracy to keep people sick.
    this was before she showed me her crystal amulet and magnetic bracelets, which she claimed “balanced” her “energy”.
    It was a long flight.

  103. Secondaire says:

    #85
    Only if you work for Klopotke. *snicker*

  104. LondonChemist says:

    Met somebody who thought menthol from plants was “good” but if you made it in a factory it was “bad”

  105. eyesoars says:

    @78: Powerlines cause cancer…
    Sort of. They do not (or at least, no one has come up with evidence of it), but the herbicides frequently used to help keep the growth down around the large ones do.

  106. hlangerhans says:

    As an ER doctor in a heavily Cuban community, I’ve heard a lot of nonsense, but the most irritating stuff is related to blood pressure.
    1. I knew my blood pressure was high because
    a. I had a headache.
    b. My face was red
    c. I had a nosebleed
    d. I felt dizzy
    e. I was sweating
    f. My hands were tingling
    2. I check my blood pressure four times a day because I know it’s an emergency when it goes over 180
    3. I felt like my blood pressure was low so I drank Coca Cola to bring it up
    A close second to the blood pressure myths (you can feel your blood pressure, something bad happens immediately when your blood pressure gets high) is the hypoglycemia myth:
    I have hypoglycemia = I feel weak when I get hungry or I have fainted more than once.
    Actual hypoglycemia in non-diabetics is extremely rare. Fainting in young people is almost always vasovagal/neurocardiogenic and in older people bradycardia is the most common pathologic cause.

  107. Terry malloy says:

    Robert l. Spitzer and reparative therapy
    Don and dierdre imus and thiomerosol’s link to autism.
    These people hurt people.

  108. leftscienceawhileago says:

    I couldn’t convince a practicing OBGYN that there is no such thing as the “tongue map”.

  109. MoMo says:

    Stop with the THIMEROSOL is safe BullshiitE!
    Every one of those companies who use/used it could have used a different preservative but they were too stupid and lazy to do so. So they can go Screw themselves.
    And if you think any level of mercury is acceptable in a developing brain you need to go back to school and learn something of value.
    Just because the level is below what “our government” sets as a lower limit doesnt mean it doesnt have an effect physiologically.
    Anyone know the BPA story?

  110. Dave says:

    I haven’t personally encountered this but clearly one of the most harmful beliefs out there is that if I have HIV, I can give it away and be cured (by infecting someone else). This has been identified as a common belief in parts of Africa (it has been attacked, so…). Certainly other parts of the world and with other diseases, too.
    Others I didn’t see on the thread: Medicine doesn’t HAVE to have adverse side effects to be effective.
    The different human races are real components of our population (see a previous post).
    There is a qualitative difference between changing a gene by breeding and by chemical manipulation.
    ’nuff said.

  111. Secondaire says:

    # 112 – on the HIV-related myths, one I’ve heard is that you can tell if a person has HIV/AIDS by looking into his/her eyes. iirc, it was a doctor’s daughter who told my father that. Eesh.

  112. Lu says:

    The idea that a gene from GM food can pass a digestive tract and embed in human cells is beyond me.

  113. Wolff-Kishner says:

    Innovorich – In Croatia, it’s “propuh” and it supposedly causes a wide variety of ailments because “it’s unnatural air and throws off the balance in your body.” Actual words spoken by intellectually deficient guests that visited recently. Furthermore, they claimed that sitting on a cold surface causes kidney and ovary inflammation. After about 30 minutes of heated debate, I walked away and bashed my head against my chemistry books.
    They also asked, “what does chemistry have to do with medicine?” Makes me cry inside.

  114. er says:

    When I was a med student we had a peds patient with strep. The mother demanded a “natural” cure. We explained the pros and cons and since she was on medicaid, wrote some scripts for OTC stuff along with a script for amoxicillin if the child started South. An hour later she was in the lobby of the clinic screaming at the top of her voice. Turns out she went to the pharmacy and the pharmacist, ever helpfull, filled everything including the amox but she was sure he was tricking her into giving antibiotics to her boy since we gave her that script as a last resort. After security arrived the real story came out: She believed that all antibiotics and “big pharma” drugs caused chronic illnesses purposely so that “big pharma” and everyone in the healthcare system could perpetually profit. A gigantic conspiracy centuries in the making.

  115. gippgig says:

    Totally off topic, but this may be the most important finding of the year:
    Sustained translational repression by eIF2a-P mediates prion neurodegeneration (Nature 485 507; doi:10.1038/nature11058)
    “Given the prevalence of protein misfolding and activation of the unfolded protein response in several neurodegenerative diseases, our results suggest that manipulation of common pathways such as translational control, rather than disease-specific approaches, may lead to new therapies preventing synaptic failure and neuronal loss across the spectrum of these disorders.”

  116. AIK says:

    Least realistic: I happen to have a genetic bone disease and have been asked on two separate occasions if I developed it as a result of my vegetarianism, both times after I had said that it was “genetic.”
    Most pernicious: That children’s natural immune systems will protect them from disease, making vaccines unnecessary and risky.

  117. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    In the window of a convenience store near my residence is an ad for all-natural tobacco products. The sign has a black box warning stressing “natural” does NOT mean “safer,” but if customers actually believed this black box why would they pay the much higher price? Any health effects from the additives in tobacco products would be lost in the noise compared with the known effects of the tobacco itself.
    Related is the popularity of calorie-dense sweets made from fruit juice: empty calories are empty calories whether they come from grapes, cane, corn syrup, or beets.
    By the way, high fructose corn syrup is itself the result of a long-standing irrationality in US politics: due to a combination of lobbying by US sugar producers and an obsession with Fidel Castro, the price of sugar in the US is much higher than the world market price(in most countries, cane sugar is cheaper than HFCS) This stupidity is also reflected in our energy policy: Cuban sugarcane would be just about the lowest-carbon feedstock available for US ethanol plants, much better for reducing global warming than corn. If we actually wanted to bring about change in Cuba, as opposed to making Miami Cubans happy (Florida being a key swing state), we’d end the embargo on trade with Cuba tomorrow.

  118. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    In the window of a convenience store near my residence is an ad for all-natural tobacco products. The sign has a black box warning stressing “natural” does NOT mean “safer,” but if customers actually believed this black box why would they pay the much higher price? Any health effects from the additives in tobacco products would be lost in the noise compared with the known effects of the tobacco itself.
    Related is the popularity of calorie-dense sweets made from fruit juice: empty calories are empty calories whether they come from grapes, cane, corn syrup, or beets.
    By the way, high fructose corn syrup is itself the result of a long-standing irrationality in US politics: due to a combination of lobbying by US sugar producers and an obsession with Fidel Castro, the price of sugar in the US is much higher than the world market price(in most countries, cane sugar is cheaper than HFCS) This stupidity is also reflected in our energy policy: Cuban sugarcane would be just about the lowest-carbon feedstock available for US ethanol plants, much better for reducing global warming than corn. If we actually wanted to bring about change in Cuba, as opposed to making Miami Cubans happy (Florida being a key swing state), we’d end the embargo on trade with Cuba tomorrow.

  119. ScientistSailor says:

    I once heard the president of PETA say we don’t need to test anything on animals because the human genome is published on the web…

  120. ScientistSailor says:

    My uncle thinks Native Americans didn’t get cancer from smoking b/c they smoked organic tobacco…

  121. Orpheus says:

    A quote on the link between HFCS and ME:
    Natural fructose (found in nature in fruits and vegetables) and the โ€œfructoseโ€ found in high fructose corn syrup are very, very different. The first is made by nature. The second is called fructose, but it was in nature glucose. It is man-made by a chemical attempt to change some of the natural glucose in the syrup to a new fructose. The end result is a mixture with some parts that are chemically close to nature and some parts which are called a new fructose. Why is that important? Because the body uses glucose in all cells of the body to produce energy. Glucose plus ATP makes energy for our bodies. Real fructose cannot be metabolised in most body cells. It is metabolised only in the liver. So, is the body able to identify where this man-made fructose โ€“ which really started as glucose โ€“ should appropriately be used and metabolised. Or after shunting the foreign substance around for awhile, does the body determine it is basically toxic and must be eliminated. For those of us with fibromyalgia, our bodies do us a big favor and, although, it is extremely uncomfortable for awhile, works to force the unacceptable man-made part out of the body by way of the intestinal tract and the pores of the skin.
    See, isn’t it clear now, the difference between “natural” and “evil” fructose?
    Maybe that’s the reason my yields in the dehydration of fructose to hydroxymethyl furfural has been piss poor, I’ve been using the wrong fructose! If only I had known before about this different chemical structure masquerading under another name!

  122. 4headslapper says:

    Sleep medicines cause cancer.
    Any guesses as to how much effort will have to go into rebutting this pile of garbage? I’d say 20 years and 150MM in spurious lawsuit setlements ought to just about do it.
    http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/la-heb-sleep-aids-cancer-death-20120228,0,2382260.story
    Note the array of “hypnotics” that are supposed to sprout tumors (Zolpidem, Lunesta, Sonata, benzodiazepines, barbituates and sedative antihistamines). Anyone want to spend their career trying to find a mechanism connecting those dots? Of course not, which is exactly the way the lawyers and talk therapists want it.
    Assuming the analysis is truthful (ahem), my guess is that it took this “Scripps” (health system) “Professor” (adjunct, emeritus) and his professional expert witness co-authors quite some time to find just the right database/statistical analysis combination to genertate this result.
    Luckily for them , thier answer just happens to support their decades-old crusade against anything Pharma. I suspect that Kripke and his Sancho Panza co-authors will end up hurting as many adults as Wakefield hurt children.

  123. MIMD says:

    what’s the farthest-from-reality misconception about medical/pharma topics you’ve encountered?
    That the various flavors of management fads in industry today (“management metaphysics” if you will)accomplish anything except wasting talent, resources and time.

  124. Scarodactyl says:

    @42 “7. Heavy objects fall faster”
    All objects exert a gravitational force which is proportional to their mass. As such, a heavier object does reach the ground faster, because not only is it being pulled down by the ground, it is pulling the ground UP towards it.

  125. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    Would PETA members be willing to be subjects for our preclinical ADME-tox studies? Actually, PETA are not the most rabid animal-rights protesters — the SHAC people do things like put leaflets naming an individual scientist on cars in driveways up and down the block where that scientist lives. The SHAC folks also do protests at any company that does business with their targets, even otherwise unrelated stuff like office supplies, in an attempt to make the whole world boycott them.

  126. Anonymous BMS Researcher says:

    Would PETA members be willing to be subjects for our preclinical ADME-tox studies? Actually, PETA are not the most rabid animal-rights protesters — the SHAC people do things like put leaflets naming an individual scientist on cars in driveways up and down the block where that scientist lives. The SHAC folks also do protests at any company that does business with their targets, even otherwise unrelated stuff like office supplies, in an attempt to make the whole world boycott them.

  127. Young Padawan says:

    Anthroposophic medicine: Take an extract of Viscum, add some mercury sulfate (of for the more expensive ones some silver or gold salt) and have people inject it themselves against their cancer. Yeah, right!!!

  128. coprolite says:

    My favorite is “when you swirl the wine clockwise the pressure of the surrounding fluid forces the fruit flavors out through the pores (on the surface of the wine molecules)”
    Everyone knows you taste the barrels over the grapes when you swirl clockwise, because the polarity of the wine cells with relation to the rotation of the earth keeps the wine cells generally upright. Duh!

  129. anonyMouse says:

    My husband had a patient who didn’t believe that men had hormones ๐Ÿ™‚ .
    On a more serious note, the belief that hereditary breast cancer comes only through the maternal lineage keeps many women who should be vigilant from doing so.

  130. CB says:

    The bigger question is how do you determine if you have a nonfactual belief??
    I slice this by looking at the preponderance of scientific research and its predictive value.
    However as a general principle when you have to postulate a vast scientific conspiracy to refute the peer reviewed scientific research, you can be 99.99% certain that you have stepped into the land of weird beliefs.
    CB

  131. NJBiologist says:

    @79 okemist: “One last one I had never heard, my wife insists she got frost bite on her chin as a child, and now her chin is very sensitive to the cold because of it?”
    Sounds like frostbite-induced neuropathy. I think it’s described in the Merck Manual; Harrison’s should have it, too.

  132. CR says:

    @119, Anon BMS Researcher:
    “In the window of a convenience store near my residence is an ad for all-natural tobacco products. The sign has a black box warning stressing “natural” does NOT mean “safer,” but if customers actually believed this black box why would they pay the much higher price? Any health effects from the additives in tobacco products would be lost in the noise compared with the known effects of the tobacco itself.”
    A good friend of mine smokes those cigarettes and I asked her why? Thinking, clearly she didn’t believe the natural tobacco was safer. She replied that, no she knew the tobacco was going to cause the same issues, but was trying to be more conscious of how the tobacco was being harvested. Whether this tobacco is actually farmed in a more environmentally friendly was is beyond me, but at least she didn’t have the illusion they were safer.

  133. Anonymous says:

    Fan death.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_death
    This with Innovorich et al.’s comments makes me wonder how societally ingrained fears of small breezes developed.

  134. Pinbot says:

    This is slightly off-topic, but again shows the strength of beliefs, no matter where they came from. I went to this really low-rent Chinese buffet. There’s this big guy, who is cornering anybody who will listen with his theory. I saw him deliver essentially the same pitch to two waiters, and two random patrons. It went something like this:
    “Those aren’t chicken wings. I’m not saying they aren’t good, because I like them, but they are not chicken wings. They are rooster wings, which are cheaper.”
    Luckily, I managed to stay out his gaze, but if you know anything about the poultry industry, you know there’s no way any large supply of cheap rooster wings has ever been brought to market. I had a whole Foghorn Leghorn rebuttal put together in my head, but I just left rather that get into a fight over mythical rooster wings.

  135. Hasufin says:

    Most tragic: that every disease is curable (i.e., that for any given disease eventually someone will come up with a pill or injection that completely cures it).
    Most ridiculous: God made the human body absolutely perfect, and it cannot be improved upon.

  136. dearieme says:

    “AIDS in humans was started by men having sex with monkeys.” It all depends on what the meaning of “sex” is.

  137. anonymous says:

    @137
    Reminds me, ever so fondly, so a quote on the news, not so long ago, that went something like this:
    “I did not have sex with that [monkey]”…..????

  138. Red Fiona says:

    >>On a more serious note, the belief that hereditary breast cancer comes only through the maternal lineage keeps many women who should be vigilant from doing so.

  139. Mr. Fixit says:

    My mother will move her bed away from the wall because the thinks the magnetic fields from the wires will cause cancer.
    gluten is evil
    sugar is evil
    fish, or fish derived food is vegetarian
    shoving garlic in your wife’s %^&*(() to prevent a strep B test prior to child birth

  140. Secondaire says:

    #122: I’m a carbohydrate chemist and I’d like to do an Amadori rearrangement on the face of whoever wrote that.

  141. Secondaire says:

    #122: I’m a carbohydrate chemist and I’d like to do an Amadori rearrangement on the face of whoever wrote that.

  142. Karl Hallowell says:

    “I think worst scientific/medical misconception is that there are other, just as valid ways of learning about the nature of reality besides the scientific method. ”
    I’m not sure which is worse, the assumption that one’s beliefs qualify as a “valid way of learning about the nature of reality” or the belief that there are no other equally valid ways of learning about the nature of reality besides the scientific method.
    Obviously, learning about reality, by say, picking random phrases out of a Bible and interpreting those phrases in terms of your already present biases, is not a good learning method.
    But one wouldn’t use the scientific method to decide what you should pay for a share of a business’s stock in the next five minutes or the innocence or guilt of a person who is accused of some crime. These tasks involve learning about the nature of reality, namely, the particular value of a business or what particular, possibly criminal actions a person might have taken. For that we have specialized tools that work much better than the scientific method, the market and the court for seeking the nature of reality.

  143. max says:

    In response to the “natural is safe” misconception, I give you a candidate for a Darwin award ….. the comment below the link I thought most appropriate for this forum
    http://news.yahoo.com/serpent-handling-west-virginia-pastor-dies-snake-bite-173406645–abc-news-topstories.html
    Snake venom is all natural and completely organic.

  144. Blaine says:

    #1 misconception I’ve seen today:
    this blog post and the resulting comments are actually doing anything to help the issue of scientific and medical misconception.

  145. Synd says:

    Eating food that was microwaved will give you cancer because microwaves “tear the molecules apart”. And various other variations on “standing near microwave ovens/eating microwaved foods gives you cancer”.
    Standing near a malfunctioning/damaged microwave emitter is definitely bad for you, but I’d worry about my poor body being burned on the exposed side before I’d worry about long-term genetic damage.

  146. Anonymous says:

    > Granted, exposure to extremely cold air may
    > do things to your upper respiratory tract
    The word “extremely” is important here.
    The kinds of weather that generally cause people to worry about “getting a cold” (typically: sixty-five and rainy, at least around here) are not even vaguely in the right category to be a relevant contributing factor. If it’s under thirty out, people don’t worry about getting a cold: they worry about getting frostbite; and thirty is nowhere near cold enough to have any significant impact on your susceptibility to infection (unless you were already in extremely poor health in the first place).
    > Imagine a drug company has two research
    > projects … One cures the disease in a
    > week, the other requires you take a dose
    > every day for the rest of your life
    Set that to one side for a moment and imagine that these two therapies were developed at _different_ companies. Which company, do you suppose, would make all the money? (See also: “prisoner’s dilemma”.)
    When you consider how many distinct diseases we haven’t figured out how to cure, it strains the imagination severely to think that in each case a real cure and a less effective therapy were developed at the SAME company, and no other company could come up with anything better (than the less effective one).
    Also, one would imagine they’d still try to develop drugs that do a really good job _while_ you’re actually still taking them, and only become ineffective if you stop buying the drug. Then people would definitely buy it. Yet, somehow, the overwhelming majority of the drugs on the market are partially effective at best, and a great many of them tend to become less effective over time as you keep taking them, until finally your doctor has to switch you over to a competing medication, or eventually you forget to take it one day and notice absolutely no difference. I’m fairly confident that’s not the outcome the drug company wants. It’s almost like making better drugs is, I don’t know, *hard*, or something.
    Furthermore, antibiotics cure your disease in a week or two, and yet somehow people find ways to catch disease again a while later and need antibiotics again. I see no reason why this kind of business plan wouldn’t work for other kinds of medicines.
    > Hydrazine cures cancer.
    It does. So does cyanide. So does phenol, if injected. What’s your point? Effectiveness is not the only consideration the FDA takes into account when deciding whether to approve a new drug. There’s also the small matter of side effects.

  147. Proteus says:

    The whole ‘getting cold causes colds’ thing comes from the fact that when you come in out of the cold and wet, your nose is often running and you sneeze.

  148. Mfernflower says:

    I have two nonsensical statements!!
    1. Homeopathy really works
    2. Everything Dr.Oz says about organic chemistry is true

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