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The NIH’s HerbList App: Helping or Hurting?


In June 2018, the National Institute of Health (NIH) launched an app available for download on iPhone and Android. The “HerbList” app aims to provide users with “information about the science of popular herbs and herbal supplements” and is published by the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The Center conducts research into complementary and alternative medicine, which, not surprisingly, often shows no benefits.

HerbList has been downloaded about 1,000 times since its release last month, including by me. It’s a list of popular and widely available herbal supplements, and when an herb is selected, the user receives a short background about the plant and its proposed uses, a section describing whether the currently available science supports those claims, and some safety information.


www.nih.govTo the credit of the NIH, the first 10 supplements I’ve looked through, including Acai, Asian Ginseng, Butterbur, and Green Tea,  were reported as having insufficient evidence to warrant the health claims they advertise, and HerbList does provide potential drug interactions and links to primary studies of the supplements’ efficacy.


This makes HerbList something of a double-edged sword. It does not guarantee that the product listed on a bottle of supplements is actually in there, or is at the labeled dosage --it doesn't evaluate any specific manufacturer of supplements. Further, the very existence of HerbList and the fact that an NIH institute took the time to develop this app may lend credibility to a business already fraught with data manipulation, fabrication, and exaggeration.

But it may also prove to be a valuable resource for people who otherwise would have never examined their own beliefs about supplements. In the best case, it might avert harmful drug/supplement interaction, in the worst, it will be disingenuously used to support use of needless supplements.


By Yelena Bernadskya


Introducing SpeedyCamp NYC 2018!

When: Sunday, June 10th, 2018 @ 2:00 to 4:00 PM
Where: The Brooklyn Commons Cafe, 388 Atlatic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

SpeedyCamp is a fast-paced open conference on science and skepticism. Six people will give ten minute long presentations, along with 5 minutes of Q&A, and YOU can be one of them! If you are familiar with the older SkeptiCamp and BarCamp events, this like that, but speedier!

(No, this is NOT replacing SkeptiCamp. We are still planning to hold our larger SkeptiCamp NYC 2018 event towards the end of the year.)

Visit this site to see the latest speaker list.

Contact if you would like to be on the speaker list. No credentials required, but your topic must have something to do with science and/or skepticism. But, do it fast!! The first 6 to request a slot will get them!

For insights on how to prepare, you can read our SkeptiCamp Session Leader's Guide

(But, remember: You only get 10 minutes, NOT 25!)

Brooklyn Commons features a wide selection of coffee, food, desserts, beer, and wine.

Event Links


Massimo Pigliucci on "Science Unlimited? The Challenges of Scientism"

When: Sunday, May 20th, 2018 @ 1:00 to 3:00 PM
Where: The Brooklyn Commons Cafe, 388 Atlatic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

This month, Massimo Pigliucciphilosopher Massimo Pigliucci returns to talk about his latest book, Science Unlimited? The Challenges of Scientism.

All too often in contemporary discourse, we hear about science overstepping its proper limits—about its brazenness, arrogance, and intellectual imperialism. The problem, critics say, is scientism: the privileging of science over all other ways of knowing. Science, they warn, cannot do or explain everything, no matter what some enthusiasts believe. In Science Unlimited?, noted philosophers of science Maarten Boudry and Massimo Pigliucci gather a diverse group of scientists, science communicators, and philosophers of science to explore the limits of science and this alleged threat of scientism.

In this wide-ranging collection, contributors ask whether the term scientism in fact (or in belief) captures an interesting and important intellectual stance, and whether it is something that should alarm us. Is scientism a well-developed position about the superiority of science over all other modes of human inquiry? Or is it more a form of excessive confidence, an uncritical attitude of glowing admiration? What, if any, are its dangers? Are fears that science will marginalize the humanities and eradicate the human subject—that it will explain away emotion, free will, consciousness, and the mystery of existence—justified? Does science need to be reined in before it drives out all other disciplines and ways of knowing? Both rigorous and balanced, Science Unlimited? interrogates our use of a term that is now all but ubiquitous in a wide variety of contexts and debates. Bringing together scientists and philosophers, both friends and foes of scientism, it is a conversation long overdue.

Prof. Pigliucci has a PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He currently is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His research interests include the philosophy of biology, the relationship between science and philosophy, the nature of pseudoscience, and the practical philosophy of Stoicism.

Brooklyn Commons features a wide selection of coffee, food, desserts, beer, and wine.

Event Links


Fake (Science) News: How to Know Bad Science Journalism When You See It

When: Sunday, April 15th, 2018 @ 1:00 to 3:00 PM
Where: The Brooklyn Commons Cafe, 388 Atlatic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

We’re all familiar with the people who deliberately misrepresent science for a desired outcome, usually to get into your wallet. But what about those who get it wrong … accidentally?

That’s right, NYC Skeptics’ own Russ Dobler is here to tell you that science journalists don’t MEAN to get it wrong, even though they often do. Learn about why the rules of journalism sometimes lead them astray, how this is exacerbated by the 21st century media environment, and what YOU can do to spot bad science journalism and fight back.

Bring your own examples to share with the group, and we’ll pick them apart together, using what we’ve learned to see just where they’ve gone wrong, and how they could have been done better!

Russ Dobler has a degree in geophysics and a certificate in journalism, which he combines in his role as Science Editor for the pop culture website AiPT! Comics, where he writes about not just the science of superheroes, but the portrayal of skepticism in media and how to apply skepticism to media. His favorite thing, though, is to help other people refine their voices and craft work on topics they care about.

Brooklyn Commons features a wide selection of coffee, food, desserts, beer, and wine.

Event Links


Sharon Hill on Paranormal's "Scientifical Americans" - Skeptics at the Commons

When: Sunday, March 18th, 2018 @ 1:00 to 3:00 PM
Where: The Brooklyn Commons Cafe, 388 Atlatic Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

Sharon HillIn the 21st century, reality television and the Internet have fed public interest in ghosts, UFOs, cryptozoology and other unusual phenomena. By 2010, roughly 2,000 amateur research and investigation groups formed in the U.S. – ghost hunters, Bigfoot chasers, and UFO researchers, using an array of (supposedly) scientific equipment and methods with an aim of proving the existence of the paranormal. American culture’s honorific regard for science, coupled with the public’s unfamiliarity with scientific methods, created a niche for self-styled paranormal experts to achieve a measure of respect and authority, without scientific training or credentials. These groups of amateurs serve as surrogates for scientists in examining strange claims. And they provide a unique lens by which we can examine the wider public understanding of science and research.

Sharon A. Hill is an advocate for science appreciation, critical thinking, and evidence-based inquiry, specializing in pop culture discourse on ghosts, monsters, mysteries, anomalies, and oddities. She is the creator of,, and the host of the podcast 15 Credibility Street. She has degrees in Geosciences and Education with a focus on science and the public. Her personal website is

Brooklyn Commons features a wide selection of coffee, food, desserts, beer, and wine.

Event Links


Help Make NYC Skeptics Better

NYC Skeptics is looking to improve our upcoming events and attract new members, and we would value your feedback. Please take a moment to fill out the following survey.

Also, don't forget to follow our upcoming events on Meetup and Facebook, including our lecture by Jo Ellen Roseman on February 18th concerning science literacy.