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Monday, April 23, 2012

Auditory and logic assault at lunch

It's been an interesting week folks, and I don't know where to start.  Actually I do.  Yesterday, while the family and I were eating lunch at a nice mexican place, I kept over-hearing snippets of the conversation at the booth behind us.  Mostly it dealt with when certain churches were founded and why.  I also overheard bits about "the laying of hands" and so and so's cancer was completely cured.  I tried to ignore her at this point.  They were going from topic to topic, and I was just trying to enjoy a nice day with the family, Then I heard her say "I went and saw Richard Hoagland talk, and suddenly everything made sense!"  I looked at my wife and I think I might have almost yelled "Did she just say Hoagland?"  Apparently I had a look on my face that had my wife start telling me "No, don't do it, don't do it!"  For those that don't know who he is, and without being too judgemental and critical of his work, Richard Hoagland is bat-shit crazy.  He has numerous conspiracy theories, mostly concerning NASA, that have been disproven on every occasion.  A good example is one he had concerning a space shuttle launch.  There was a sensor that was malfunctioning, and according to Hoagland, it would never be fixed with conventional engineering.  (It was built with conventional engineering, wasn't it?) Well, to make an long blog a little shorter, the NASA engineers fixed it with conventional engineering (duct tape and baling wire?) and the shuttle was launched without a problem.  Hoagland also states that the Mars rovers are terminating life on Mars by heating the samples they are collecting, and we are descendants of Martian refugees that fled the planet during a calamity that made it uninhabitable.  He has numerous other theories and books out there, and I mean WAY out there, but if you want a good idea of what Hoagland is about, he is a regular guest on Coast to Coast AM, hosted by George Noory, and Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer himself, has called Hoagland a pseudoscientist with ridiculous claims.  The reason for the rant was the fact that this woman seemed to buy all the wild claims that poured out of Hoaglands cakehole. 

This leads to another topic that has been discussed heatedly at several skeptic meetings and on a lot of the skeptic forums.  When it comes to correcting misinformation, should you be polite, calm, and reasonable, or should you be as loud and emotional as the supporters of Woo are?  Some people say do one, some say the other.  Me, I say do both.  If you're in a debate in front of an audience with someone denouncing vaccinations, and they are yelling, screaming, and trying to win the audiences sympathy for being "misrepresented by the mainstream media" and talking about "the dangerous side effects on children", it is best if you show the intellectual side of the argument, and try to impress the group with facts, but it would be fine to show your emotions over the numbers of sick and dying that didn't get immunized.  If you are talking to a family member about their deciding to use homeopathy and naturopathy to treat their cancer, by all means, get loud and try and make them see sense, almost like an intervention, and who hasn't been there?  An even more balanced approach is to gauge what the opposition is doing, and how their information is being presented, and nearly match them.  I know that it is difficult to make numbers and facts come across as emotionally provoking as some of the "facts" that conspiracy theorists, anti-vaccers, anti-evolutionists, and "natural healers" use, but with a little work, and a lot of good P.R., we can do it, and show the world that we aren't just "liberal minded, cold-hearted science types", but caring responsible science types.

And now for a few definitions that are often confused for real science.  And yes there will be a test, but don't worry, it'll be open book, or is that open internet? This was spawned during a dinner conversation with a good friend of ours, and it brought back a topic I had been wanting to discuss for a while.

Astrology is the study of the signs of your birth i.e. "Cancer is in the house of Pisces". 
Astronomy (astrophysics) is the study of the universe and how it works i.e. "Proxima Centauri is the nearest star to Earth at 4.2 light years.
With these, unless you are using astrology to make important decisions, such as "The stars say to avoid anyone wearing a white coat, so I shouldn't go to the doctor to have this strange bleeding from my ears looked at." (and yes, it happens.  insert facepalm here), the confusion doesn't cause much harm, unless you say it to Neil Degrasse Tyson, then, there may be some harm.

Homeopathy is an alternative form of medicine (and I mean alternative) that uses "a highly diluted toxin to cure a disease".   Basically, you're taking a sugar pill, but I will grant that the placebo effect can do some amazing things.  Currently however, there is NO proof that homeopathy actually works and relying solely on it can be harmful.
Holistic medicine is an approach that takes the entire person into account as to why they are ill, which so far, isn't a bad idea.  But it also deals with imbalances in a persons spirit or Chi.  Some of the ways that a holistic healer will attempt to cure something is :

  • natural diet and herbal remedies
  • nutritional supplements
  • exercise
  •  relaxation
  • psycho-spiritual counseling
  •  meditation
  • breathing exercises
  • acupuncture
  • homeopathy
  • massage therapy                                               (Taken from Wikipedia)

  • For the most part, fine and dandy.  And who doesn't like a nice massage, but outside of exercise, most of these have at best a placebo effect, and if they are used in place of western medicine for a serious problem, they can lead to death. 
    Naturopathy is basically using plants and herbs to treat problems in the body, and the normal argument is "It comes from nature, so it must be good for you."  This is also called the Natural Fallacy.  Another point that naturopaths make is "Native Americans and the Chinese have used these cures for centuries."  This logical fallacy is called an Argument from Antiquity.  Concerning the "comes from nature" argument, I hate to be the one to point it out, but Arsenic, Cyanide, comets, radiation, scorpions, and Bobcat Goldthwaite are all naturally occurring, but I wouldn't exactly call any of them good for you, especially in large amounts.
    And the last definition is Medicine which is, according to
    1. any substance or substances used in treating disease or illness; medicament; remedy.
    2. the art or science of restoring or preserving health or due physical condition, as by means of drugs, surgical operations or appliances, or manipulations: often divided into medicine proper, surgery, and obstetrics.
    3. the art or science of treating disease with drugs or curative substances, as distinguished from surgery and obstetrics.
    4. the medical profession.
    5. (among North American Indians) any object or practice regarded as having magical powers.
    I personally don't feel that the last definition should have been included, but eh, what can I do.  Once again, the post is longer than anticipated, but I hope that you found something useful in it, and please feel free to leave a comment or question in the box.  I do read everything(so far 1 comment). If you have any topics you would like me to discuss, let me know.  Thanks for reading, and for those that earned the cool points last time, they should have arrived by now, so you should be an even cooler person than before.
    Have a good week folks!
    The Skeptical Okie

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