Category Archives: Pseudoscience

Skeptic’s Circle

The 44th Skeptics’ Circle is now up on Salto sobrius.

Denialist Rhetoric

People argue bad science, psuedoscience and nonsense for a variety of reasons, some religiously motivated, some politically motivated, some out of ignorance, some out of arrogance, some out emotional needs, some due to psychological problems.
When they encroach onto the scinetific turf and argue nonsense within a scientific domain, they use a limited set of rhetorical tools. The exact choice of tools depends on the motivation, as well as the forum where they advocate the nonsense. Some, the generals in the army in War On Science, have big soapboxes, e.g., TV, radio and newspapers. Some teach and preach in schools and churches. Some run blogs, and some – the footsoldiers of The War – troll on other people’s blogs.
So, when the motivation is political, when they are pushing for debunked conservative ideas, from femiphobic stances on anti-abortion and anti-stem-cell-research, through thinly-veiled racism of the War On Terror, to failed economic policies (“trickle-down”) and global-warming denial, they mainly use one set of rhetorical strategies.
When the motivation is religious, as in Creationism, the strategies are similar, but not exactly the same. Loony fringe pseudoscience, from the Left or the Right (and sometimes it is difficult to figure out if they come from the Left or the Right) – appears to employ very similar rhetorical devices as the religiously motivated pseudoscience, suggesting that perhaps both are sharing the same underlying emotional disturbances.
Pseudoscientists of various colors, the denialists of reality, have been the topic of a couple of interesitng blog posts recently, most notably this one on GiveUp Blog. PZ Myers chimed in as well, adding a couple of other rhetorical devices. A number of commenters also added some good ones, e.g., David Harmon:

— binary splitting (everything MUST be one way or another, no mixing)
— idealization and denigration (combines with the previous, e.g., “good” must be perfect; any contamination of “evil” makes something entirely “evil”)
— projection (assigning to others the characteristics they reject in themself)

and adspar:

Another common tactic is to magnify doubt, which goes along with setting impossible expectations. Chris Mooney mentions numerous examples of this tactic in his book.
If you can’t say something is 100% certain, or if your statistics have some margin of error, they jump all over it as if any sliver of doubt undermines a scientific claim.

Prometheus of Photon In The Darkness blog wrote a similar list of The Seven Most Common Thinking Errors of Highly Amusing Quacks and Pseudoscientists, in four installments: Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV. This was done with a lot of care for detail and is well worth your time to read.
I do not have too much to add to this, though I’d like to see a complete taxonomy of rhetorical strategies, tabulated as to which ones are more likely to be used by politically motivated vs. religiously motivated purveyors of nonsense, which are more likely to be found on big bully-pulpits and which in comment threads on blogs.
Recently, when looking at an example of medical quackery (another category of pseudoscience), I identified several more rhetorical strategies, which are all familiar to you, I’m sure:
Reverence for the Past
Reverence for the Ancient Wisdom of the Orient
Naive Scientism
Appeal to Mathematics
Prosecution Complex (which may foster Secrecy)
What do you think?

Alternative sleep therapies

Over 1.6 Million Americans Use Alternative Medicine For Insomnia Or Trouble Sleeping:

A recent analysis of national survey data reveals that over 1.6 million American adults use some form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat insomnia or trouble sleeping according to scientists at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), part of the National Institutes of Health.
Those using CAM to treat insomnia or trouble sleeping were more likely to use biologically based therapies (nearly 65 percent), such as herbal therapies, or mind-body therapies (more than 39 percent), such as relaxation techniques. A majority of people who used herbal or relaxation therapies for their insomnia reported that they were helpful. The two most common reasons people gave for using CAM to treat insomnia were they thought it would be interesting to try (nearly 67 percent) and they thought CAM combined with a conventional treatment would be helpful (nearly 64 percent).

I don’t really know what to think. On one hand, someone is making a lot of money on this. On the other hand, placebo effect may be quite effective for relaxing a person enough to fall asleep. Meditation certainly will help a person relax – it is so boring you have to fall asleep after a while. And who knows, one of those therapies may actually have some effectiveness after all – we don’t know because it was never tested. On the other hand, many herbal remedies, because they are never tested and approved, may contain some nasty chemicals that can kill you. Such deadly molecules were discovered in some brands of melatonin a few years back. So, they are not safe even if they are effective. I’d like to see Orac and Abel comment on this.

In addition to looking at the data on CAM use and insomnia, the researchers also looked at the connection between trouble sleeping and five significant health conditions: diabetes, hypertension, congestive heart failure, anxiety and depression, and obesity. They found that insomnia or trouble sleeping is highly associated with four of the five conditions: hypertension, congestive heart failure, anxiety and depression, and obesity.

All of those connecitons have been seen before and some of those have been studied in quite a lot of detail. Unfortunately, there appears to be a vicious cycle – these conditions negatively affect sleep and lack of sleep negatively affects these conditions.

A new meaning of ‘having a buzz’

A new meaning of 'having a buzz'This strange November 09, 2005 post should really be posted on Friday as part of the Friday Weird Sex Blogging….

Continue reading

Aliens Found in Roswell!

And even better – they were discovered to be working illegally.
Steve says: “Extraterrestrials gotta eat, too”
Lex noticed that (if you hover your cursor over the “illegal aliens” in the text), you can find Roswell aliens on eBay!

Lefty and Righty excesses of pseudo-science

Lefty and Righty excesses of pseudo-scienceSince Chris Mooney’s book has just come out in paperback and the critics often invoke false equivalence between abuses of science on the Right and the Left, I thought this would be a good time to repost this August 05, 2005 post (reposted here on January 16, 2006):

Continue reading

Skeptoblogging of the week (or two)

The 40th edition of the Skeptic’s Circle is up on Daylight Atheism.

Refreshing Skepticism

The Coca-Cola edition of the Skeptic’s Circle is now up on Skeptic’s Rant.

Circadian Quackery

Believe me, I love the word “circadian”. It is a really cool word, invented by Franz Halberg in the late 1950s, out of ‘circa’ (Latin – “about”) and diem (“a day”), to denote daily rhythms in biochemistry, physiology and behavior generated by the internal, endogenous biological clocks within living organisms.
It’s been a while since the last time I found someone mistaking the word for ‘cicada’ which is a really cool insect. ‘Circadian’ has become quite common term in the media and, these days increasingly, in popular culture. Names of some bands contain the word. A few blogs’ names contain the word. I guess the word has cool modern scientific connotations, sounds like something from Star Trek, and on top of it has the ever-alluring association to the shape of the circle and the endless cycle of Time. Thus, it has the New-Agey air of a mix of scientific and mystical to it.
That does not mean that people know what the word means. I’ve seen quite a lot of confusion about the meaning of it on blogs and elsewhere. It was just a matter of time until the word was misappropriated by quacks. And yes, it has happened. I have recently found two examples of medical quackery with the word “circadian” prominently displayed. Let me show you why both are utterly wrong and what is the commonality between the two: [under the fold]

Continue reading

Comissar in the Seventh House

There is a whole slew of responses to this silly post by Comissar/
It is a typical effort to make “balance” between Left and Right in order to make the Right appear more palatable, …or palatable at all. The typical He-said-She-said approach that tries to equalize the enormously dangerous policies of the Right (see my previous post below) with follies of some powerless, silly people on the fringes that nominally belong to the Left (and vote Nader when it really matters!).
But, since when was Astrology part of the Democratic Party platform, even at state level, like Creationism and Global Warming Denial are in the GOP? Which party did Nancy Reagan belong to? And who the hell is Jerome Armstrong and why should I care? Is he just another Ward Churchill, a nobody that the vicious Right can beat up on blogs every day?
So, read the responses (and excellent comments) by:
PZ Myers, Ed Brayton, DarkSyde, Brent Rassmussen and Alon Levy.
It is funny that Comissar lists people who are so different from each other politically, some closer to Comissar himself than to the DNC. It is also funny that Comissar lists people who have, originally, when it was still fun before more dangerous and pressing things happened to the world in November 2000, written against astrology and other pseudoscience. It is also funny that he lists people who have invented the Skeptic’s Circle and Carnival of the Godless where such stuff is debunked (and the founder of Tangled Bank in which such stuff was debunked before the founding of the Skeptic’s Circle).
And I have chimed in on this topic before in Lefty and Righty excesses of pseudo-science.