The year in crackpottery, and what it costs us.

The Touch That Doesn’t Heal :

Is there anecdotal evidence that unconventional therapies sometimes yield positive outcomes? Yes. There’s also anecdotal evidence that athletes who refuse to shave during winning streaks sometimes bring home championships. It was George D. Lundberg, a former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, who said: “There’s no alternative medicine. There is only scientifically proven, evidence-based medicine supported by solid data.” We’d do well to keep that in mind as we plot the future of American health care. It’s not like we’ve got billions to waste.

7 (Stupid) People Who Sued the Scientific Method:

Scientists study for years to give us advances like computers. Lawyers sue scientists on behalf of people who can’t operate computers, earn ten times as much and, in doing so, raise horribly relevant questions about which group is actually smarter. Here we see seven of the worst offenses of law against science:

The poison of positive thinking: How self-help culture helped create the credit crisis:

You might think the advocates of personal empowerment would feel chastened by the fact that all this rude interruption by reality comes at a time when positivity is being celebrated as never before. Think again. Rather than concede the fallibility of an unfailingly positive attitude, they counter that some negativity must have snuck in, queering the deal. (This is the logic Byrne used in blaming Hurricane Katrina victims for failing to repel the storm with upbeat vibes.) Vitale characterizes America’s doldrums as a byproduct of “the media bad-news scenario,” making it sound as if unemployment, the foreclosure crisis and the looming collapse of major industries didn’t exist until the media reported them. He argues that what we need now is even more pie-in-the-sky.

Celebrities are not very bright, suggest scientists:

We live in times when celebrities become mayors, governors, even presidents. They use their good looks and power to speak out about all the important things in the world. Like cancer. And fur. Which is, perhaps, why Sense About Science, an organization that exists to give a little scientific perspective in the midst of our madness, has published the Celebrities and Science Review 2008. This delightfully downloadable pdf shows celebrities for what they really are: somewhat deficient. Scientifically speaking. The report barely conceals its glee at what it sees as some of the magnificent nonsense that has emerged from celebrity brains, navigated celebrity tonsils and popped out from celebrity mouths in 2008.

The Year in Bad Science:

It’s only when you line these jokers up side by side that you realise what a vast and unwinnable fight we face.There was the miracle pixie dust which made a man’s fingertip grow back, although fingertips do just grow back by themselves.

Scientific illiteracy all the rage among the glitterati:

Talking sense: Two who got it right
*The writer Jilly Cooper gets nine out of ten for making a stab at why alternative treatments might work: “If you believe them, then they work.” That describes the placebo effect, where a harmless but useless remedy seems to work because the patient feels as if it is working.

Good – Jilly Cooper writes awesome sexy equestrian novels.


2 responses to “The year in crackpottery, and what it costs us.

  1. Thanks for that depressing list, Bora. In a funny sort of way, it makes me hopeful. If the bar is currently set so low, how can it not go up in the year to come? (Don’t answer that. I’m feeling a little better right now.)

  2. From Celebrities and Science Review 2008, page 6:
    |Prof Sir Colin Berry, pathologist: “Leeches use heparin (an enzyme)…”
    Clearly, pathologists should look things up too, since heparin does not fit even the most loose definition of an enzyme.