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Monday, September 14, 2015

Letting the other side of reality talk. (Opinion)

Before you get too far into this post, I'm going to warn you ahead of time that it is largely my opinion on the matter, and in no way reflects anyone else's views. I have started to put (Opinion) in the titles if the post is in fact an opinion piece and contains very little research. This is so that people that read my posts for the research I put into it don't feel cheated when reading an opinion piece, and the maybe 1 person that reads these because they are interested in my thoughts.

I have been hearing the murmurs about giving both sides of an issue equal time and press, so that people can have a chance to make an informed decision. (I largely feel that the increased pressure for equal time is due to the up coming presidential race debacle)  In some issues, I completely agree. Give all the candidates equal time to make the promises they know they can't keep. Let companies have equal amounts of commercial time to make their claims about how their products can improve your life. This is fine. This is republican democracy and capitalism at work.

When it comes to the science vs pseudoscience arena however, I don't think that the quacks, hucksters, and other bullshitters should have an equal amount of time to try and convince people that their particular flavor of pseudoscience works. Granted, I do think that it is important to listen to the believers to try and learn how and why they think that crystal healing, reiki, or homeopathy works. I also know that it is important to review and check anyone's evidence, both scientists and pseudoscientists. But to give a homeopath, or any other promoter of pseudoscience an equal, or greater amount of exposure is a detriment to society, as well as being intellectually dishonest.

 For decades, these alternative treatments, quantum whatevers, and ancient or all natural products have often been shown to be at least less effective than actual medicines and treatments, if not more dangerous, especially when mixed with actual medicine. Not just experimentally, but in actual instances outside of the lab. Unfortunately,  you often hear about someone forgoing medical treatment and trying some type of alternative medicine, and paying the price, not just financially, but with their health, and sometimes their life. And yet, the stories that make it into the media outlets are the "miracle cures" and "mysterious recoveries" that "have doctors baffled". BULLSHIT! The only doctors that might be baffled by these occurrences are the people that are promoting this crap, and their bafflement comes from the fact that it looks like their treatment worked. This is a tactic often used in the media, as well as with the alt med crowd. It makes the article more interesting, and casts doubt on the entire medical establishment. However, you will never hear them admit that sometimes diseases will spontaneously go into remission, regardless of the type of treatment that the patient was receiving. You also never see them talking to actual medical experts to find out if they are actually baffled or if it's just a bit of media hyperbole.

There are websites, magazines, and television shows that seem to go out of their way to not just denigrate science and actual medicine, but to make people frightened of it. Which in turn drives up sales of their products. I am not saying that every single person that promotes some form of pseudoscience is just doing it for the money. There are a few that actually believe that they are helping people by offering alternatives, though these are far and few between. Most of them have their own things to sell and view everyone else as competition. They will even invent problems that don't actually exist in order to create a demand for something no one thought they needed. All that they manage to do is cause people to believe that scientists have no idea what they are doing, or that they are hiding something. Of course the fact that actual science can be revised or proven wrong while pseudoscience rarely changes adds to that, and the snake oil promoters use that fact also, which in turn gets them more publicity.

Basically, what I have been trying to say through my little rant here is that the pseudoscientists should never be given equal representation to scientists, especially in the media. All this does is muddy what may already be complicated issues, and it gives them a legitimacy that they neither have, nor deserve. If there is anyone associated with the media that reads this, I do have a couple of suggestions. The first is give both sides time equal to the amount of reliable evidence. Not anecdotal, not customer testimonials, not arguments from antiquity or the naturalistic fallacy, or arguments from popularity. Whoever has the most reliably reproducible results from actual testing should get the lions share of media time. I sure as hell don't mean all the "clinically tested" claims that you often see on a variety of WOO based products either. All that means is that they were tested, possibly in-house, and it doesn't say anything about the efficacy of the item. A second suggestion is, if you do a story on some form of pseudoscience, and are looking for balance, don't just give the expert or the skeptic a 5 second sound bite at the end. This doesn't help anything, because people have already heard what they want to, and have stopped paying attention.(I'm looking at you History Channel, Animal Planet, and Dr. Oz!) You can also start with a disclaimer saying that the following story or statements has yet to be scientifically verified.

With that being said, I would also like to say that it important as a critical thinker, science advocate, skeptic, rationalist, or however else you would like to be labeled, or have labeled yourself, to actually listen to the believers of pseudoscience. This can help you understand why they believe what they do, and possibly give you a way to show them other evidence for a more rational explanation. Not to humiliate or belittle them, but to show them that there are other possibilities that are much more likely. I am also not saying that the pseudoscience crowd can't express their opinions and views. They just need to be aware that when they do, there will be those that demand evidence and have the knowledge and ability to refute their claims.

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