Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘Radiation’

RFT Ep 252 – The GMO and You Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 10, 2014

Download the episode here! 


Prairie report – The price of dignity?


A special report from the Prairies on poverty – How kicking out a homeless man from a grocery store reflects on the deficiencies of our society.

Further Reading:

Non-English signs


Recent debate about a Chinese only sign in Richmond leads to thought about what multiculturalism ultimately means.

Further Reading:

Temporary foreign workers


A 40yr old program gone off the rails under Harper’s watch…how did it happen?

Further Reading:

Chernobyl at 28


28yrs later, life has not only survived at Chernobyl but is flourishing.

Further Reading:

After tens of thousands of years of modifying organisms, what does GMO mean now? And the most counter-intuitive argument for GMO labeling.

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Best of Radio Free Thinker – the 170s

Posted by Don McLenaghen on August 28, 2012

This week a recasting our some of our best bits from episodes past:

Nuclear Salmon invade the West Coast,
– 5 Awful Atheists,
– Quack Medicine and your pets

Download the episode here!


Nuclear Salmon invade the West Coast

The recent front page of the Georgia Straight warns Canadians about the imminent and probably deadly threat to our lives from the nuclear fallow from the Fukushima reactor accident arriving in the form of radioactive fish. Don takes a critical eye to this story and exposed its bias and unscientific slant.  

Find out more:

Awful Atheists

A recent article at ‘exposing’ the worst ‘stars’ of atheist. We discuss the people and the positives/negatives of these individuals. We end on a rift about how important it is to be an atheist for the right reasons…that a dogmatic atheist is no better than a fundamentalist   

Find out more:

Quack Medicine and your pets

We respond to listener emails about the use of Alt-Med on our loved pets. We discuss the practice, the risks and the ethical responsibly of pet owners to not endanger their pets.

Find out more:


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Radio Freethinker Episode 175 – Nuclear Salmon Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 24, 2012

This week:

– Airport security’s porno twist,

– Nuclear Salmon invade the West Coast,

– Drone’s stop Polio eradication

– New improved Olympics now with Rocket Launchers, and

– What’s Ethan’s problem with the War of 1812

Download the episode here!


Airport security’s porno twist,

We discuss some interesting stories in the news about the “enhanced” security pat-downs that ‘exposed’ the worlds largest penis and had the US courts pronounce nudity ‘free speech’

Find out more:

Nuclear Salmon invade the West Coast

The recent front page of the Georgia Straight warns Canadians about the imminent and probably deadly threat to our lives from the nuclear fallow from the Fukushima reactor accident arriving in the form of radioactive fish. Don takes a critical eye to this story and exposed its bias and unscientific slant.  

Find out more:

Drone’s stop Polio eradication

The world has almost eradicated Polio in the world however repercussions from the assassination of Bin Laden and the US use of drone assassinations has stopped to program in Northern Pakistan. Listen and find out why.

Find out more:

New improved Olympics now with Rocket Launchers

With the London 2012 Olympics just around the corner, we examine the escalation of security including the placement of several rocket launchers on the roofs of apartment building in down-town London. We take a skeptical look at the effectiveness of these weapons and the possible motivation for their use.

Find out more:

What’s Ethan’s problem with the War of 1812

Ethan examines some of the historical and cultural inaccuracies and false impressions the current War of 1812 celebrations are portraying and why its important to get the history right.

Skeptical Highlights:

International Autonomous Robot Racing Competition 2012

The International Autonomous Robot Racing Challenge (IARRC) is a competition in which small-scale vehicles (about the size of an RC car) use artificial intelligence to race against each other without human control.

IARRC aim to provide students with a hands-on opportunity to apply what they are learning in school. Ultimately, this competition promotes research in autonomous automotive technology as we believe such technology will improve the safety and quality of transportation.

The first competition was held in April 2005 at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. It has been growing since then, and other participating universities have taken turns hosting. This year, IARRC 2012 will be held in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Robot Racing Competition and Exhibition

Google Labs

Google has set up an exhibitionist in the Science Museum in London. In true Google style it was not intent to have a ‘traditional’ display so they have combined the exhibition with Google Chrome to launch Google Web Lab. Where virtual visitors from around the world will be able to interact with the displays and perform 5 different experiments from the comfort of home. The exhibit includes: Universal Orchestra, Data Tracer, Sketchbots, Teleporter, and Lab Tag Explorer.

Google’s Web Lab website

Humanists in the Pride Parade

Join the BCHA for its third year marching in the Vancouver Pride Parade. For the past three years the BC Humanists have invited all local humanists, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and other freethinkers to march in the Vancouver Pride Parade. This year we hope to have a bigger and more fabulous entry than ever!

DETAILS — Marchers should plan to arrive by 12:30 PM. Our staging area is designated EN4 and will be on the North side of Robson Street between Burrard and Thurlow. You can only enter the staging area from Burrard Street. Please plan on walking/biking/transiting downtown as there is very limited parking and many road closures..

Humanists in the Pride Parade

Paul Ingrahm Save Yourself lecture for BC Humanists

At The BC Humanist’s Sunday, August 26th meeting, They will be hosting Vancouver science journalist Paul Ingraham for a special lecture.

In 2010, Paul Ingraham quit his career as a Registered Massage Therapist, exasperated by the prevalence of anti-scientific attitudes and methods in that profession, and disheartened by a fight with a licensing agency for the right to write about it — similar in spirit to Simon Singh’s famous legal battle with the British Chiropractic Association. Mr. Ingraham will tell the story of his legal struggle and becoming one of the few apostates of complementary and alternative medicine.

Mr. Ingraham is now a science journalist and publishing entrepreneur, and creator of, a popular website about common injury and pain problems, which is notably successful at commercializing science advocacy and rational health care information. He has written hundreds and articles and eight books on these themes so far, and is also an editor for, a blog about scientific issues in medicine.

All are welcome to attend our weekly Sunday meetings at Oakridge Seniors Centre, which start at 10am. After about half an hour of coffee, tea, and socializing, we discuss topics of interest to our members.

Save Yourself lecture

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[Funny WHO pun about Cell Phones and Cancer]

Posted by Ethan Clow on June 8, 2011

Recently the World Health Organization released a statement regarding cell phones and possible connection to cancer. Almost immediately newspapers and media took this release and ran headlines saying “World Health Organizations say cell phones linked to cancer”

What’s really going on here?

First, it’s important to know that the World Health Organization didn’t release a study or any research. They issued a press release – an actual report is scheduled to appear in The Lancet on July 1st. That’s right, their research, which no one has actually seen, remains…well, unseen. Instead, media and newspapers are reporting on press release, which in of itself isn’t too odd, rather, I have to wonder exactly why scientists at the W.H.O. thought it would be a good idea to release a press release on scientific findings that are not available to the public or other scientists.

It’s also important to understand exactly what the W.H.O. have said here.  To quote them, they have classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

To quote them again:

The Working Group [the scientists doing the research] discussed and evaluated the available literature on the following exposure categories involving radiofrequency electromagnetic fields:

-occupational exposures to radar and to microwaves;

-environmental exposures associated with transmission of signals for radio, television and wireless telecommunication; and

-personal exposures associated with the use of wireless telephones.

According to their results, they classified the evidence for the possibility that cell phone use could cause glioma and acoustic neuroma as limited, further, they classified the evidence that cell phone use could cause other types of cancer as inadequate.

As a result of this, the working group moved cell phones into a new classification. These levels of classification are:

Group 1 Carcinogenic to humans

Group 2A Probably carcinogenic to humans

Group 2B Possibly carcinogenic to humans

Group 3 Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans

Group 4 Probably not carcinogenic to humans

Cell phones were placed into Group 2B Possibly carcinogenic to humans.

There’s a number of major problems when trying to research the relation between cell phones and cancer. One of the first being that there is no plausible mechanism for which using a cell phone could cause cancer. Basically, a cell phone emits to low amount of energy to mutate strands of DNA which would cause cancer. And since cell phones don’t contain any cancer causing carcinogens like asbestos or something, there really isn’t a mechanism that would cause the cancer.

In addition to that, we do have some rather interesting points of data to consider. There are currently over 5 billion cell phones in use right now and yet cancer rates have not increased in proportion to this figure. Now, this factoid alone isn’t science, but at the very least, people arguing that cell phones cause cancer need to find some way to address this discrepancy.

We should also consider the INTERPHONE study, whose results were reported last year, showed no evidence of a link between cell phone use and glioblastoma or meningioma. Of course, the study is now generally thought to be inadequate, for reasons laid out here.  Nevertheless, the study; which involved 13 countries looking for any sort of link between cell phones and two types of brain cancer, glioblastoma and meningioma, and had a case control study including 2,708 glioma patients and 2,409 meningioma patients, along with matched controls; does at least provide some evidence in the realm of proof of concept, or rather, a lack of proof of concept; since the study failed to show a credible connection between cell phone use and cancer.

Another interesting study that was quite recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers looked at where brain cancer was forming in relation to the cell phone. The idea being that if cell phone radiation was causing cancer, the tumours would form in an area of the brain close to the source of the radiation. They based this hypotheses on the observed fact that that cell phone energy absorbed from the radio field created by cell phones depends strongly on the distance from the source.

Since the available evidence seems to indicate that it is virtually physically impossible for cell phones to cause brain cancer, now, that doesn’t mean it could never happen, but to say that it could, one would require significant evidence to essentially overturn some very established theories in physics and biology.

According to Orac, the medical blogger at Respectful Insolence, at worst cell phones are either Group 3 (Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans ) or Group 4 (Probably not carcinogenic to humans) , not Group 2B.

We are left again to ponder the bad choices of World Health Organization. My biggest concern is a matter of credibility. Because of the authority and influence the W.H.O has, one would think they would use a very strict policy to determine what they say to the media, especially about a contentious issue like cell phones and cancer. If the W.H.O stir up a controversy, which turns out to be a bust, they come across as alarmists and worse, even pandering to the evil drug companies that in turn get to sell expensive treatments. If the W.H.O don’t address concerns like this, they get accused of being in the pocket of big business like cell phone companies. This places them in a predicament that I can’t imagine they like being in.

Another concern for me is the potential for a misuse of policy because of such a pronouncement by the W.H.O.  And that may be what we get. The Ontario New Democratic Party, is now pushing for warning labels on cell phones after the press release from the World Health Organization.

NDP health critic France Gelinas has gone on to say that children should not use cell phones at all. Gelinas has pushed for such labels in the past but has renewed her efforts recently. Now best case scenario, Gelinas is just misinformed and this will be a minor embarrassment once the science is explained to her. Worst case scenario is Gelinas is in the camp that scary words like radiation are scary and must be stopped. I don’t want to lump her in with those who say wi-fi will kill you or that power lines cause cancer, but it does make me worry that such policy could act as a slippery slope for more fear mongering about scary sounding words.

Hopefully, that won’t be the case.

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Pious Fraud – Homeopathy for Radiation Poisoning

Posted by Ethan Clow on March 17, 2011

Many people see the disaster in Japan from the earthquake and tsunami as an opportunity to give to charity and try to help the people on the ground in Japan who are struggling to rebuild their lives. Others, see this as an opportunity to use the state of heightened fear to make money and promote non-science based medicine.

Unfortunately this appears to be the case for a particular homeopathy store in Vancouver called Little Mountain Homeopathy, owned and operated by Sonya McLeod.

If the name Sonya McLeod rings a bell, it’s probably because she used to write “articles” for the Georgia Straight. I say “articles” because, in my opinion, they were more like really long advertisements for homeopathy and often featured a sales pitch to an extremely expensive product one could conveniently find at Little Mountain Homeopathy.

Does her name still ring a bell? Perhaps because she has had a number of semi-public disputes with some local skeptics on her blog and has been the subject of some concerned skeptical bloggers.

Why am I writing about her again? Turns out Little Mountain Homeopathy can also cross off “radiation poisoning” from their list of things they can “cure.”

A friend pointed this out to me. Yes, she is suggesting the use of Radiation Detox Baths, Potassium Iodide Tablets, Spirulina, Sea Vegetables and clay baths as potential treatments for radiation poisoning.

What can one say about this? It’s the act of capitalizing on fear to sell needless products for a problem that doesn’t exist. Of course it should be noted that Potassium Iodide tablets actually are supplied to people in danger of certain nuclear exposure as they do actually work. It’s a little odd to see her promoting something that isn’t homeopathic but as was pointed out on Radio Freethinker last week, with the news of the potential nuclear problems in Japan, the cost of potassium iodide tables has risen by huge leaps and bounds. A tidy profit could be made by unscrupulous sellers willing to promote nuclear hysteria. In reality, potassium iodide is only useful if the levels of radiation reach what’s called radiological I131 exposure. That simply will not happen in North America.

Perhaps you’ve heard the whispers of fear that should the worst case nuclear scenario come to be in Japan, a wave of radioactive fallout will drift across the Pacific Ocean and poision the west coast of North America.

NOT going to happen!

This is absolutely, completely, totally, false. Even if, – if – such a scenario happens, it would not pose a health risk to residents on the west coast of North America. Phil Plait over at Bad Astronomy didn’t have kind words for the person who created that map.

“Far worse, in my opinion, is the person who created a map claiming to show the spread of a radiation cloud from fallout. This map is a fraud: totally fabricated and complete garbage.”

He also provides a link to debunking that map, here it is again.

So if you live on the west coast of North America, don’t worry, you won’t get a lethal dose of radiation, unless you stick your head in a microwave or something. But even if you did, homeopathy wouldn’t be an effective treatment!

Again via Phil Plait, I learned that other homeopaths are jumping on the cure-radiation bandwagon. A website called Homeopathy Plus is providing information on how to deal with the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. The Merseyside Skeptics posted this in response:

“Following the link from that alert takes you to the Homeopathy Plus website, with their advice on how to deal with the side effects of Chemotherapy – advice they believe to be equally applicable to radiation poisoning. Just to make it absolutely clear, as if I even needed to, there is a HUGE difference between the side-effects experienced after having a well-controlled, targeted and managed dose of chemotherapy to fight cancer, and being randomly exposed to an uncontrolled amount radiation following a damaged nuclear power plant.”

For more information on the alert mentioned in the above quote, check out Ben Radford’s article in Discovery News, he provides a good summary of the situation and debunks some of the woo from the “treat radiation with water” lobby.

But back to Little Mountain Homeopathy, what can you do? The answer is to complain. Write letters and make it clear you’re upset about this sort of thing.

You can send letters to the Canadian Competition Bureau here. This is the organization that monitors Canadian businesses and makes sure they obey the laws when it comes to marketing and packaging and labels.

Fellow skeptic Steve Thoms sent in a complaint regarding Little Mountain Homeopathy to the Canadian Competition Bureau and received the following response:

“Dear Mr. Thoms:

Thank you for the information you provided regarding Little Mountain Homeopathy.

We have reviewed your information and determined that the matter you have raised requires further examination under the laws we enforce. We have not yet determined what action, if any, would be appropriate. A Bureau representative may contact you if further information is required.

Should we determine that action is warranted, we can use a wide range of educational, compliance and enforcement tools to deal with false or misleading representations and deceptive marketing practices. These include issuing public alerts to educate consumers or businesses about certain marketing practices; contacting parties directly to encourage voluntary compliance with the laws we enforce; and pursuing legal action.

The Bureau is required to conduct its investigations in private. As such, we cannot provide complaint status reports or comment further on this matter in order to protect the integrity of the investigative process. However, we invite you to visit our Web site,, to learn more about the work of the Competition Bureau and to access public information on case developments and general information about our programs and activities.

Thank you again for taking the time to bring this matter to our attention.”

I think this is a great sign. Steve showed great initiative sending in a complaint and I encourage all skeptics to do the same. Remember to check out Steve’s blog Oot and Aboot with Some Canadian Skeptic and his posts at Skeptic North.

Remember how I said that McLeod has also written “articles” for the Georgia Straight? On March 16th this appeared in the Straight. It’s basically her blog post from her website only shortened to just a small blurb about taking Potassium iodide tablets. Of particular frustration to me is that it includes advice about dosage. McLeod is not a pharmacist! Why is health advice being offered by someone (in a newspaper no less) who does not have the medical background to understand what they’re saying?

Okay, so…what? She selling placebo’s to people. Big deal right? It’s not like she’s maliciously trying to stir up panic right? I would never suggest she’s doing anything out malice. I don’t know her. She could be the nicest person on the planet for all I know. But I remember something Steven Novella said when he was in Vancouver for a live show the Skeptics Guide to the Universe.

“There comes a time when the lack of due diligence is morally indistinguishable from conscious fraud.” – Steven Novella

Basically we’re talking about the notion of pious fraud. Who cares if it doesn’t work, it makes people feel happy and safe. The problem is, McLeod is profiting on making people feel happy and safe and she profits because she misrepresents the danger of radiation exposure.


I have serious moral objections to stuff like that. As far as I understand it, blogs don’t operate under journalistic integrity. They aren’t newspapers and they have no obligation to be rational. However, once you start to sell things… the rules change. You are bound by Canadian law not to deceive you’re customers.  I really hope that the letter Steve Thoms sent (I will send my own, please send one of yours too, the more we send the better) will spur action from the regulatory bodies in this country to crack down on this. Not only is it  false advertising, but it’s also implication of danger where one doesn’t exist for the purpose of convince people to buy a product that wouldn’t have worked in the first place.

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