Sci + Society,

#053: Snakes On A Brain!

November 21, 2014

In a slight departure from regular Smart Drug Smarts convention, in Episode #53, we take a look at “Snake Oil” – the term used to classify fraudulent medicine, or products that claim unverified results.

Jesse speaks to Drew Birnie, Research Scientist and Content Manager at, a website dedicated to providing – in the words of its founder – “self-help for people who hate self-help.” Drew’s job is to comb through research material in a scientific and data-driven way, in order to separate empirical evidence from pseudoscience. He explains confirmation and survival biases, takes us through his research methods, and highlights for us the value of being proven wrong.

Key Terms Mentioned

Links From Drew

Read Full Transcript
Show Notes
  • 00:00:32

    What is "snake oil?"

  • 00:02:33

    This Week in Neuroscience: Neuroscientists And The Computer

  • 00:04:47

    Thank-you to Catrine Bergeron

  • 00:05:26

    Big Data in Biomedicine Conference

  • 00:05:54

    Come say "hi!' on Twitter

  • 00:06:25

    Mark Manson – "Self-help for people who hate self-help"

  • 00:07:34

    Introduction to Drew Birnie

  • 00:09:29

    Challenges and audience expectiations

  • 00:10:15

    Confirmation Bias: A cognitive pitfall that snake oil salesmen take advantage of

  • 00:11:19

    Survival Bias: Selectively publishing results

  • 00:13:19

    Drew's claim assessment process

  • 00:14:49

    The power of the placebo effect, and double-blind testing

  • 00:16:41

    Jesse's personal experience with Piracetam, and accounting for individual variation

  • 00:17:52

    Adopting an empirical method: "Letting go of always having to be right, and realizing the value of being proven wrong"

  • 00:19:03

    Accepting falling into the snake oil trap as a trade-off for the temporary spike of hope

  • 00:20:00

    Snake Oil - Part 2: Our first-ever video episode teaser

  • 00:20:47

    Ruthless Listener-Retention Gimmick: Even Casual Marijuana Smokers at Risk for Structural Brain Changes

  • 00:23:58

    Thanksgiving-themed episode teaser

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