Copycat Suicides Are A Real Phenomenon. We Need To Work Hard To Prevent Them, Especially During COVID-19. (Skeptical Inquirer)

12 minute read

The season one finale of 13 reasons why (13RW) aired on March 31st, 2017 and featured the graphic suicide of the main character Hannah Baker. In response to criticisms, Netflix later removed this scene from the episode. Critics argued that the vivid depiction of Hannah slitting her wrists would lead to copycat suicides, particularly due to the vulnerable nature of the show’s target audience of teens and preteens.  While any depiction of suicide in the media, fictional or real, has the potential to inspire imitations, 13RW’s plot has been described as “the ultimate fantasy of teen suicidal ideation.” The show presents suicide as not only a reasonable solution to Hannah’s bullying but the only solution. It depicts mental health professionals as incompetent and unhelpful and offers no commentary on mental illnesses like depression or anxiety that can be managed and treated in non-fatal ways. Worst of all, it portrays suicide as a way of exacting revenge on those who have hurt you, an idea that is likely to be quite appealing to those who have been harmed by abusers.

However, this is not a column for critiquing television shows. It is a column for science, for questioning the beliefs we have taken for granted and for realizing which of our assumed truths should not have been assumed as such. Before 13RW, it never occurred to me to question whether copycat suicides are a real phenomenon. But the fervent discourse around this show has led me to the body of evidence regarding suicide contagion, so, let’s dig on in and see if copycat suicides truly are the risk they are made out to be.

Read the entire article here: https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/copycat-suicides-are-a-real-phenomenon-we-need-to-work-hard-to-prevent-them-especially-during-covid-19/

Poinsettias Are Not Going to Poison Your Pet or Kid (McGill OSS)

1 minute read

If you have avoided having poinsettias in your home because of small children or animals, you’re not alone. But despite the commonly held belief that poinsettias are toxic, they aren’t. This myth seems to have originated in 1919 with a misattributed poisoning of a child and perhaps persisted because several members of the same family as the flower are quite toxic.

Despite fears of poinsettia poisonings in over 22 thousand calls made to American Poison Control about children eating the red leaves, there wasn’t a single fatality. A 50 lb (22.68 kg) child would need to eat 500-600 leaves to exceed the doses that have been proven experimentally safe.

These leaves, however, aren’t meant for your salad, so eating even a couple can give you an upset stomach or cause vomiting. This is the reaction commonly seen in dogs and cats, but since these symptoms are mild, oftentimes no veterinarian care is required, although you should contact your vet if your pet is sick for more than a few hours.   

The biggest risk comes from touching, rather than eating, the plant, as it produces latex from its stem (like thousands of other plants) that can cause skin or eye irritation in humans and non-humans alike

Original article posted here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know-health-and-nutrition/what-you-need-know-about-poinsettias-and-poison

Bananas are Berries. Raspberries are Not. (McGill OSS)

2 minute read
All images created by Cassandra Lee

It turns out berry is actually a botanical term, not a common English one. It turns out that blackberries, mulberries, and raspberries are not berries at all,  but bananas, pumpkins, avocados and cucumbers are. So what makes a berry?

Read the entire article here: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/did-you-know/bananas-are-berries-raspberries-are-not

You Don’t Need To Bleach, X-Ray, Or Inspect Your Kids’ Candy This Halloween (But You Do Need To Wear A Mask) (Skeptical Inquirer)

7 minute read

I haven’t gone trick or treating in over a decade, but I still vividly remember my fear and anxiety around Halloween candy. I remember double-checking every piece to make sure it was sealed and throwing away anything that wasn’t. I remember that the neighbors who gave cans of soda were my favorite to visit, not only because I loved pop but also because it was nearly impossible for a can to be opened or tampered with and maintain its pressure.

Halloween sadism is the idea that a stranger would try to hurt trick or treaters by adding poisons or sharp objects to their candy. I remember the first time my mom told me about it. I was around six years old, and as she was tucking me into bed we got to talking about Halloween and razor blades in apples. I was instantly terrified, and when I expressed this, my mom tried to backtrack and explain that it was just a story; it didn’t really happen.

Read the entire article here: https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/you-dont-need-to-bleach-x-ray-or-inspect-your-kids-candy-this-halloween-but-you-do-need-to-wear-a-mask/

Will Wearing A Hat Make Me Go Bald? (Skeptical Inquirer)

10 minute read

While losing the hair on our heads doesn’t have any serious medical implications on its own, it can be seriously damaging to our psyches. Studies have shown that both women and men with alopecia, or hair loss, experience increased stress, diminished self-esteem, and other negative psychological effects.

Some of us live in fear of our part widening or our hairlines receding. Others have made peace with their eventual journey to becoming a Patrick Stewart lookalike. Either way, you’ve likely heard a lot of unsubstantiated claims about behaviors that can cause baldness. As usual, some can be dismissed outright (no, masturbating won’t make you go bald), but some bear further investigation.

Read the entire article here: https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/will-wearing-a-hat-make-me-go-bald/

Am I Drunk, Hungry, Or Both? Alcohol As An Appetite Stimulant (Skeptical Inquirer)

8 minute read

If you’ve never gotten fast food after leaving a bar late at night (or, more correctly, early in the morning) I’d highly recommend it. I’ve never been sure if it’s the intoxication, the tiredness, or the unusual hour that makes post-pub falafel taste like heaven, but somehow after I go out drinking with my lab mates the food always just is better. I had resigned myself to the mysterious joy of 2 a.m. poutine remaining just that, a mystery. But last Christmas my grandfather took me by the shoulders and with odd earnest asked me to write an article finding out if alcohol is an appetite stimulant. Well, Grandpa, it may have taken seven months, but here it is! Let’s take a look at the evidence for alcohol as an appetite stimulant.

Read the entire article here: https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/am-i-drunk-hungry-or-both-alcohol-as-an-appetite-stimulant/

The Science of Sourdough and How a Jar of Microbes Could Help Keep Your Bread Fresher Longer (McGill OSS)

7 minute read

Its catapult to popularity may have been triggered by the pandemic-induced yeast shortages, but even months later, when instant yeast is once again available at most grocery stores, sourdough’s contemporary stardom is barely starting to fade. Sure, many of us turned to making a sourdough starter to simultaneously combat yeast scarcity and our newfound fear of going to the grocery store. But lots of us have kept up with our strange new hobby of mixing water with flour and leaving it on the counter for reasons beyond just the practical.

Read the entire article here: https://mcgill.ca/oss/article/nutrition-technology/science-sourdough-and-how-jar-microbes-could-help-keep-your-bread-fresher-longer

Human-Guided Evolution Closer Than You Think (Skeptical Inquirer)

9 minute read

Evolution is often thought of as a solely long-term process. But the conception that its effects are only seen after millions of years ignores a crucial part of the evolutionary process: adaptation. Because we tend to fixate on the drastic changes caused by evolution over huge timescales, it’s easy to ignore the small variations between generations that add together over time to form the big evolutionary changes we focus on. This unintentional side-lining of small adaptations can blind us to the ways in which humans are directly affecting the evolutionary processes of nature. From tuskless elephants to fish that can’t smell, animals are developing specialized adaptations to allow them to live in ecosystems that have been disrupted and altered by mankind. These adaptations are one step in the evolutionary process that already bears the unmistakable marks of humanity’s influence.

Just as humans are changing the planet, they’re changing the fauna that inhabit it. Here are some examples of how.

You can read the entire article here: https://skepticalinquirer.org/exclusive/human-guided-evolution-closer-than-you-think/