Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pseudoscience Word of the Day: Blinkered

Blinkered is a cool word. You can use this word every day in many situations. The advantage of this word is that it is archaic and therefore few people remember what it means.

The word is related to horse blinders, the funky pirate patch things they use to control horses so that they ignore everything except for what is in front of them. This is much more subtle than shouting: "You have blinders on!"

Blinkered translates to people in terms of limited outlook and ignoring evidence. You could say, 'small minded', but the subtle choice is 'blinkered' and you don't even need to say it under your breath or look both ways for the target of your scorn.

Here is a link to a dictionary definition: Blinkered
Here is a link to its use in an article at Wired where I found the use of the word: Accept Defeat: The Science of Screwing Up

You can now consider yourself properly educated on a very important pseudoscience term. You many now go out and play!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pseudo Political Science

Pseudo Political Science seems to be a new fad. Look at Sarah Palin. Her pseudo-brain-think is absolutely amazing.

Who cares about her politics, it is the pseudoscience that is absolutely breathtaking. Sarah Palin has all the hallmarks of a high and mighty professor of letters in Pseudo Political Science.

What is Pseudo Political Science (PPS for short)? Well, same old stuff, different wrapper. Think sugar pills but substitute fear in everything but undying love of your favorite beliefs.

Sarah's beliefs are so wild and so unproven and indeed, imaginary, she has garnered probably the biggest book rollout since the Antichrist (Glenn Beck) released his last book. When we see such great stuff as this, we have to stand up and salute! Why is this so great? Simply because there is so much paranoia and irrational faith that every trailer park, shack, or Republican has a copy of her book.

This is all the more amazing given that many folks don't even need to (or can't) read the book because all they need to do is hate Democrats. That is so easy because Fox News has the market cornered on calling Democrats Socialists and Nazis. What more can you do?

But that makes it even more amazing. It is like Holy Water, just wave your hand over it with a prayer and it does everything from christen babies to making vampires smoke. Same thing with everything that comes from Sarah.

Everything is irrefutable and true! Even if there is hard evidence (like Grandma still not in the death camp), then there is a conspiracy! Maybe Grandma is just a hologram or the Democrats are poisoning the denture cream this very moment! It has to be true because Sarah is never ever wrong.

But look at Hillary... She is about to become a convert! Hillary and Sarah are going to have coffee! Sarah is going to meet Hitler's #2 and convert Hillary Clinton! Oh my, it is like James Randi believing in the tooth faire. It could be the end of the world when the Earth stops spinning on its axis in horror.

All hail the queen of Pseudo Political Science!

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, don't follow too close, that duck shit is pretty slippery.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pissing on Homoeopathy

Here is a great Pseudoscientist putting the P in the seudoscience of homeopathy. Better yet, he has created a cure for urination.

Normally I give an essay on how all this works. In this case, I will let the video in the link above speak for itself.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Eucharist Experiment

Eucharist is the ceremony that some christians use to commemorate the last supper. Depending on the specific denomination, they believe the ceremony of drinking wine and eating bread is the actual consumption of the blood and flesh of Jesus. This is called transubstantiation.

Let's forget for the moment the odd cannibalistic hedonism and concentrate on the miracle. Somehow the wine and bread are transformed into flesh and blood (sorry, not knocking it if it is your religion, but it is a very yucky idea)).

Again, let's get this straight, not knocking religion. I say take advantage of these miracles! Here is a list of common ailments of our modern society that can be helped by a Christian miracle or two.

Gluten Intolerance: Turn that bread into something that has no gluten! Love it!\

Alcoholism: It may be yucky, but transformation to blood should fill you with the spirit rather than spirits.

Diabetes: Bread has long been an issue for diabetics, especially type II. The calories in the starch flood the bloodstream and spike glucose. Human flesh is more protean, so good all way round for nutrition and glucose control.

Dieting: This would also beat eating pork rinds as part of the Atkins diet.

Cannibalism reform: Think about the therapeutic applications for folks like Cannibalism Anonymous.

Look at the number of applications! Wow, such a miracle is going to really help the world.

There are some problems however. The simple issue is belief. Miracles come in two forms. The first is your general 'everyone' can bennefit from. Like a hurricane mising your city and destroying the heathens in the next town down. If transubstansation works like that miracle, all we need is a production line to bless this stuff for cinsumption and off we go to cure the world of its ills.

The second way that miracles can work is that you need to really believe before you can take advantage of miracles. This puts a bucket of cold water on a lot of my ideas for taking advantage of miracles. Simply you have to be a super duper believer and not just a Sunday Christian.

So, now a call to my pseudoscientists. We need some folks for experiments. Depending on your dedication, you can experiment on yourself, but say more the merrier and it means more data points.

There are a couple of things you can do:

1) Eucharist Production: I don't think you are going get a holly man to be your supplier. Why not bless the bread and wine yourself? If this works out, you might even start a new business supplying food and wine to the ill or obese for their diets.

2) The Gluten Test: Here you need a volunteer. See if this really works. Caution, gluten intolerance isn't pretty. Only perform this experiment in a well ventilated area. A Mass in an open field with a port-o-potty is advisable.

Both experiments should be some with believers and non-believers. You might want to add additional experiments to test for true believers.

What are your experiments? How would you take advantage of the miracle? That's what the comment section is for!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

No More Dinosaurs in the Bible

One of the best places for family fun and pseudoscience has been closed. Dinosaur Adventure Land in Florida has not only closed its doors, but its creator is doing prison time.

What 'was' Dinosaur Adventure Land? Simply a creationist wonderland. It mixes dinosaurs with the very best in pseudoscience to get little kids to believe that man lived hand in hand with T-Rex and other cool dinosaurs. Basically any ten year old worth his snuff is going to say 'cool beans' to the cool dinos and then suck in the wonderful hokum that is creationism and intelligent design.

In my mind, I felt a pain in the passing of this park. Imagine the loss to university students studying cognitive dissonance, persuasion, or even fraud. It was perfect proof that you can make defenseless children and many adults believe anything if you cover it in enough sugar.

But there are a few lessons to learn in the park's passing. Apparently believing Intelligent Design does not make you smart enough to understand tax law (he has a whole list of crimes before going down for tax evasion). Thinking that dinosaurs are mentioned in the Bible also does not make you a moral and upstanding citizen. In fact, perpetrating fraud on little children seems to just increase your criminal tendencies. It is a slippery slope from religious zealot to ten years in a maximum security prison.

I have no problem with you if you can't understand evolution. It took us thousands of years to believe the Earth revolves around the Sun and not the other way round. It is just plain hard to give up something your religion says you must believe or go to Hell and burn for eternity.

The sugar of a park probably seemed kinder and gentler than scare tactics of Hell and damnation. But their religion gives them wonderful excuses to take any measure as they must 'save' these little children from the sins of science. We are wired to believe in some very weird ideas and often the can get out of control.

People are not stupid, just easily persuaded to believe in stupid things. No less surprising, once you have a belief, it takes a lot to undo. With creationism, it isn't easy to believe that dinosaurs ruled the Earth far before man. It is so so easy to come up with what sounds like reasonable explanations.

If you learn it at an amusement park, it must be true! It is just a shame we can't teach pseudoscience in the best laboratory in Florida.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Chiropractic Hate Society

Yikes, more hate speech against chiropractors. Here are a few references:

Discover Magazine (the worst offender)
Ministry of Truth

They are all talking about chiropractic practitioners and a trial going on where this PDF has just being released as proof of chiropractic claims. Of course there is some bad science. They can't help it as chiropractic practice is not known for their double blind studies. You can't, in my opinion, do a double blind study because it involves moving bits of the body around which voids the study.

But really, I am angry at the science geeks and their hate speech. They assume something without a double blind and repeatable results is fraud, stupidity and somehow a crime against humanity. Sorry, there may be a few, but most believe in this and that makes it real to them. It is no different than crystals or homeopathy. At some point the mind causes a belief, no matter how un-defendable, and builds the belief into a perceived fact probably can not be changed by argument or even direct proof.

I like that last little bit. There is no such thing really as belief. In the end belief is a fact to the person that holds the belief.

Don't the pseudoscience haters ever consider placebos? How about side effects of moving around bits of flesh and bone? The problem is that, in the minds of chiropractic practitioners, coincidences add up beliefs to create a perceived reality and that reinforces the odds that a cure will 'manifest' or appear to manifest in relation to spinal manipulations.

There is a lot of science in chiropractic, just no formal science related to what they are claiming. Massage is no different than chiropractic. Is massage pseudoscience? Manipulation manipulates, sorry but that is a physical thing. You can't wiggle your little finger without causing changes to your biology. The effect of having your spine jerked around is not a zero. Even if at a minimum it changes a bit of blood flow and the horrific sound of vertebra popping can shoot endorphins all about. To say there is nothing happening at all with chiropractic therapy is just plain bad science. The anti-chiropractic world should be ashamed of themselves for making just as absurd assumptions that they are complaining about.

A favorite of mine is the claim that chiropractic is better than other methods for back pain. Funny thing is that getting out of bed, driving to the clinic, having someone get you up on a table and pushing stuff around is better than laying in bed. The act of doing all this other stuff is also part of the cure. Sure the moves the guy makes may be hokum, but there is a lot of stuff other than the hokum you can't ignore.

But what of the cost of chiropractic? Isn't that ripping people off? No! There is a placebo effect that has been proven to be more powerful if you raise the cost of care. The only crime is that it is not more expensive and thus more effective!!!! ....ok, you were supposed to laugh at that one.

Chiropractic belief is caused by very old adaptions of the brain. We are wired by surviving in the jungle for millions of years to save energy and stay alive. Jungles will make you dead quick if you take the time for proper science. Tigers don't understand double blind studies.

This is also people making a living or justifying their beliefs which is also related to survival. This is little different than guarding a fruit tree so that your family can survive. Look at chiropractic like cattle farmers burning down the rain forest. You won't get them to stop burning unless you give them alternatives. You also have to convince the farmers that burning is bad and the alternative is better. But even here there are many people involve. The farmer that burns the forest is selling cattle into the rest of the system which relies on the cattle.

People sell and consume the meat. It is an ecosystem that has strategies to defend itself to survive and will protect each link in the chain.

Chiropractic is an ecosystem too. Chiropractic schools rely on the existence of chiropractic clinics. The lawyer of a chiropractor (or his association) relies on the chiropractor as does the owner of the building he practices in, the suppliers of equipment and so on. Even the patient that believes in chiropractic has a dependency and will not shift unless the benefit is greater than the embarrassment and cost of re-believing in something else. It is an ecosystem.

Ok, let's talk ecosystems some more. I hate flies and roaches. Flies sort of have a good niche in the web of life and I am sure there are some legitimate niches for the humble roach. But I hate these pests and they have no value in the local area I inhabit. Sure, if I keel over dead, maybe they have a part in the web O' life, but not while my girlfriend is still there to shuffle me off for proper disposal.

I hate flies. I hate roaches too. They are stupid adaptations of nature. Calling them stupid isn't going to help solve the existence of flies and roaches. As far as I know, short of a laser defense system under every leaf, stone, or the junk in my house, calling them names is not going to eliminate nature's process of adaption that allows these pests to be very successful at being pests. Calling chiropractic stupid is just as stupid as calling flies et al stupid.

Got a solution to eliminate and repurpose flies or chiropractic? Didn't think so.

Got a way to convince someone with a strong belief in something unsupported by pure science? Didn't think so.

Got a way to educate every man woman and child in the practice of critical thinking and enforce its application? Didn't think so.

Curing wacky thinking is like wishing for world peace.

These pseudoscience bigots need to stop ignoring the other side of science and how we make decisions. The human brain is purpose built to believe in crap because that is efficient. The only way you are going to change some of these people is to just show them how their brains came to these beliefs and the aforementioned alternate reality where unscientific hokum is real.

Pseudoscience needs to be rebranded as the study of how people believe and even thrive on bad data, poor logic, and their strong beliefs. Pseudoscience hate speech needs to be banned.

But here is a dose of my own medicine. Why is this hate manifesting in these science geeks? Simply because of the very same weak mind. It is cheaper to call someone a bad name and question their parentage than it is to study persuasion and the brain. Just like race prejudice too, it is an us-verses-them mentality. Defend the family from vermin, especially if they don't have the same beliefs.

It is also about survival. We saw what happened in the Bush era where non-science political appointees gutted science based establishments. Of course the same could be said about the behavior of people when we had forced integration. Night and day in the cause, but the emotion is the same. People are scared that a non-science person will be able to kill science and put the scientifically minded folks out of a job. Sorry science geeks (and I include myself), we are ruleby survival instincts and the brain's need to operate efficiently.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

When is Homeopathy not Pseudoscience?

A funny thing that happened recently. Zicam, a supposed homeopathic medicine was pulled from the shelves because it caused some people to loose their sense of smell.

I actually have some Zicam in my medicine cabinet. Never used it, but it had some cool packaging that screamed powerful medicine. Mainly bought it because it isn't marketed as homeopathic, rather a sort of vitamin for your nose. At least my reason and I am sticking too it. Tried zinc lozenges for a cold once and they soothed my throat, why not my nose?

You find this sort of stuff right next to the heavy duty drug-based nose candy in the drug store. It isn't on a shelf in the alternative medicines sections. It isn't on a shelf next to the magic crystals from magic healing land or voodoo dolls and bat wing.

Why is a non-drug next to a drug? The fact is, there are ingredients in Zicam. But that is only sort of true. The whole idea of homeopathy is that somehow the poison (and it is usually a poison), is no longer in the solution, but has its aura or essence (whatever, don't get me started) memorized by the water.

Zicam is considered homeopathic because of a law created in 1938. That makes it a drug, but not worth testing like a real drug because it contains naturally existing substances. Of course, many poisons are 'naturally occurring substances'. Just saying.

Love this, it is from a PDF from the Zicam folks FAQ:

Why is zinc gluconate considered homeopathic?
Zinc gluconate is recognized as a homeopathic drug because it has known "homeopathic provings" and/or known effects which mimic the symptoms, syndromes or conditions associated with the common cold, which it is administered to treat.

So, what does that mean? Essentially, if you take enough zinc gluconate you will get a runny nose. That's not good. But if you dilute it in water such that there is no trace... Well let's just say a magic fairy gives it the opposite effect. So, it is a medicine because, wait for it, in quantity it makes you feel sick, but diluted it makes you well.

You gotta love logic. It is so easy to twist. And we have believed this since 1792. Just goes to prove, illogic ages like a good wine.

Anyhoo, what is the effect a active dilution could have to cause smell blindness? Possibilities range from coincidence to other factors. Could be contamination, the fact that they use alcohol, or even that the dilution isn't really all that diluted and can cause problems in some people. Even mass delusion is a possibility - rumors can cause health effects too. Of course it can also be a bad coincidental sniffer failure experienced at the same time as using Zicam. When you roll the dice that someone gets well on their own, sometimes they get sick on their own too.

As you might guess, my Zicam is in the trash. Not that it can kill my sense of smell, but because it is homeopathic. Please don't get me wrong. Nothing wrong with homeopathy. Placebos are great stuff. I just don't believe in it and therefore I am immune to its effects.

There is another reason. The nocebo effect is also very powerful as we have discussed before. Just knowing that others have lost their sense of smell could cause your brain to kill your nose just from the belief that it could happen to you too.

Of course, I avoid homeopathic drugs as a matter of course becaue of the nocebo effects. If the whole idea is that it is a diluted poison (or whatever causes the bad effect like a runny nose), I have a tendency to believe in the effects of the poison rather than some anti-poison effect. I have a lot of faith in poisons rather than homeopathy. Call me silly, but this is my motto: That which does not kill me is probably not a poison.

You know I have not really offered up any experiments. Let's create an experiment worthy of a Boys Book Lab experiment!

  1. Take an over the counter stool softener and dilute to 10,000 to 1 so as to create the homeopathic equivalent of an anti-diarrhea medication.
  2. Take highest dose you can stand of an over the counter stool softener (contracting Montezuma's Revenge will also suffice for this experiment).
  3. Take a teaspoon or so of your homeopathic anti-diareah mixture.
  4. Call the Oprah show from your touchtone phone from the privacy of your bathroom throne to report your results.

Got a homeopathic experiment? Write it up in the comments and maybe I'll put it in my book! You too can get published!

Cracking Spinal Jokes to a Diabetic

I love chiropractors. Really! I just have a hard time letting them near me anymore. They are always cracking me up.

Here is the deal, you move stuff around in the body and stuff happens. Chiropractic, acupuncture, massage, are all manipulation. To a certain extent, they can all cause the body to do stuff that didn't happen before.

But then there are the claims. Chiropractors, or at least mine, claimed that doctors and drug companies were just treating the symptoms of a messed up spine. Really? Hard to say, but cracking my back and paying a lot of money and time did not help. Seemed a bit odd that I never got my money back (pun intended). I even signed up for a health program who's spokesman was Captain James T. Kirk.

Did it help a little? Sure, but no cures and I did exactly what he wanted. Paid in advance too. But that's a ruse by the pseudoscience practitioner. Hard to back out when you have already paid for the service.

Are people truly helped by chiropractors? Yep! But can you say it is because of all that back cracking work? Not definitively. Sorry, not a lot of proof. Devilishly hard to do a double blind study either. Despite the whining of chiropractors, there still isn't 100% success in their profession.

Cracking my knuckles feels good. So does cracking my back. You get a bit of freedom of movement in those joints. With a computer and bad posture, we don't move a whole lot. Chiropractors might help, but so does getting off my butt.

One of my greatest pain complaints is now gone. I had a lot of pain. Huge aching pain. Pain that made it hard to think. A pain that wasn't helped much by the chiropractor, better helped by massage, and even helped by electronic acupuncture, but never stopped. You know what it was caused by? Type 2 diabetes.

Sadly non of these people understand type 2 diabetes. They can't cure it. Sorry. They didn't even diagnose it. A quick blood test and there we go. Controlled diet and good drugs, well, pain goes away. Pretty cool eh? Fail to control diet and take the drugs, look pain. Ah, science.

I love pseudoscience. It is amazing how well it works, when it works. But there is the flaw. Placebos are cool, and some things, even chiropractors, can create physical effects (endorphins from having your head twisted are cool), but they are not necessarily cures. For all my chiropractor's talk of others treating the symptoms and not the cause, he was just treating my symptom. Go figure.

The key reason for this blog and the book is the understanding of why we believe in silly stuff. The problem of course is that silly stuff often works. People swear by magnets, voodoo dolls, and chiropractors. They can all have effects either from pure mind, or a real effect that is just confused with others or pure chance. The lesson here is that it is often hard to tell.

It is also a good idea to go out and buy a glucose meter. Go to a doctor if you want, but a glucose meter will tell you if you have type 2 diabetes. Read the instructions, read the literature, and test. It won't kill you, but it might save you. Most of us don't understand that effect of the food we eat. Seeing your blood sugar skyrocket after a happy meal or a bag of chips will wake you up.

Want to hear some great pseudoscience from your doctor? The fasting blood sugar test is hokum. It will only show that you are diabetic, not on the edge of diabetes. The only way to see if you body is on the slippery slope of type 2 is if you do a glucose tolerance test. The problem of course it that this takes time and money. Problem with that is that you are already in trouble if a doc sends you off for this test. I'd say get one every year after you are 35. I'm not a doctor, but I wish I had at least a hemoglobin A1c test instead of all those semi-worthless fasting blood sugar tests that failed to catch pre-diabetes.

If you don't want to go as far as a meter, read the diabetic symptoms (throw in weird achy muscle pain because that is often missed because it is rare). If you already have them, well too late, but at least you can take some action. Don't just treat the symptoms. Find the cause. Also, get a second, third, and forth opinion.

There is pseudoscience everywhere, even at your doctor's office. My doc missed the obvious symptoms of type 2 until the blood tests came back. Doctors are human, not infallible. They are influenced by education, drug companies, and even the psychology of the examination room. Sometimes real science is second banana to gut feelings, long held beliefs, influence of others, and a sprinkle of hokum.

Twenty million or more people in the US have diabetes. Half don't even know it yet. We don't really know why, but it is partially genetic, and part diet. Odds are pretty good that if you are over 45 you are either a type 2 diabetic or on your way. That's science, don't ignore its possibilities.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The first star if Pseudoscience

Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, also known as the Celestial Medicine Man is a constellation up there in the sky. It's no Oprah, but it beats her on age.

We have a long history in pseudoscience. The medicine man is an old concept. There are cures, herbs, and ceremonies all aimed at cures for either disease or the demons that cause disease. Not much different than health magnets or copper bracelets to help golfers. Of course there is all that hoodoo over Voodoo.

But what has changes? Science! If you can create an experiment that proves it, well it is science. If you have trouble repeating experiments, well that is the medicine man. Not that it doesn't work, just that you need to believe in the placebo/nocebo affects or you have to have a real effect that just has not been studied well.

The medicine man was a sort of scientist. Things worked and failed as you might expect. But things that worked, well they worked and were repeated. That is why we have drug companies making money. But the problem with a lot of the medicine man's bag of tricks was based on placebo/nocebo and blind luck. Sometimes taking mushrooms and blowing smoke will coincide with the patient just getting better - that's why I love herbal cold cures because they all eventually work!

We often associate Astrology with the stars (like Oprah), but this star sign is both a medicine man and a part of the astrological zodiac path. That deserves a bit of explanation as well.

Ophiuchus is also called an unlucky Zodiac sign. It isn't in the Zodiac, but that's the point. The Sun is in Ophiuchus more than twice as long as in Scorpius. Sort of a limbo for anyone born between November 30th and December 18th. So neither Scorpius or Sagittarius between those two dates. Unlucky for astrologers too because it is bad when not even the constellations add up scientifically.

But if you are born under this in-between sign, are you likely to be good at pseudoscience? Probably not. You can't believe in this because astronomy does not allow you to. Sorry, just 12 signs are valid.

It is like Pluto. Do you know why Pluto was demoted as a planet? Simple: It is silly to change all those astrology charts for a spec of light that astrologers can't see (most don't own telescopes).

There are other things about this contellation help us think about psudoscience. There is a star in this constelation called Barnard's Star, a 9.5-magnitude red dwarf (or a height challenged star for the politically correct). It is also called the Runaway Star. Running away is putting it mildly because it travels at 103 miles per second (0.06% the speed of light). This star is smoking! From our point of view on the Earth, Barnard's Star moves the distance of the full moon in just 180 years. Use the metaphors at will, but I'd make this akin to the snake oil salesman trying to get out of the neighborhood.

Speaking of neighborhoods, the runnaway star is the second closest star to our solar neighborhood at only 6.8 light years. It is just a tad farther away than Alpha Centauri. Actually, that is a lie perpetrated by bad high school text books. Barnard's is really the fourth closest star because Alpha Centauri consists of thee stars. I guess there is science, pseudoscience, and old science in high school text books.

On a personal note, Bernard's Star holds a special place in my history. I once had a high school buddy who claimed to be from Bernard's star. Because he was adopted and a bit weird, it is a possibility we could not find adequate evidence to disprove the claim.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There is no such thing as pseudoscience

There is no such thing as pseudoscience. It is just the messiness of the human mind. We don't believe this stuff because we are delusional, but we are hard wired to be delusional. Self-delusion is inexpensive. It does not waste a lot of energy. We just use authority figures and rules of thumb and that's good enough. Has been since the first primitive brain cells started communicating.

The only real differences between an antivaxer and a doctor is that the anti-vaccination believeer is shooting from the hip, just like you would in the jungle. You don't eat poison plants in the jungle.

The evidence for poison really depends on if it is really a poison or just chance that the fellow died or got sick near the same time they eat a plant. Worse is evidence in front of you or from a celebrity as this hold more weight. Data is not as believable as your neighbor or a playboy model. Either way, a sample of one, as long as it is first hand or from an authority figure (Oprah), the one sample is good enough in the jungle. No need to experiment because that would be freaky dangerous.

We can experiment now. We are beyond the jungle, or at least those that have the time or aptitude. If you don't have the time, have a poor education, attended a California public school, or part of the Left Behind policies, you don't experiment and don't have the experience of what good science proves.

There is a price. It takes energy to do science. You have to have commitment. If you live in a trailer park and work for minimum wage, the biggest experiment you've done is Mentos and Diet Coke.

Real scientists are rare. And that Poor little mice pay a price... Or if you are a do it yourself scientist, get your sister to take a nibble. But others would rather save calories and look to their authority figures in the church, politics, and celebrities.

We have more data. But folks are still wired to live in the jungle... That is of course if you believe in evolution of man.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Oprah - Queen of Pseudoscience?

Is Oprah really the Queen of Pseudoscience? It is a tough call. Here at the "Boys Book of" offices, we asked the question. The mailman wasn't going to talk, but the rest cozied up to the big screen in the break rook to watch a few Tivo'd Oprahs.

The Secret is a good one. It isn't about any 'secret' per say, but the weird stuff you wouldn't think about in a million years. That make The Secret more fantasy or science fiction than science or even pseudoscience.

Indeed, there are things in The Secret that have a of real science. Try not to think of an Elephant.... I'll wait... See, that is all the secret is about. It is placebo and nocebo. It is attention of the mind on a goal. Nothing rocket science. The hoopla around The Secret is the wacky pseudoscience around how it works. Some guys are out there saying you are fiddling with the quantum foam of the universe and that's way out there. 

The Secret is all rather harmless pseudoscience. If you are trailer trash when you watch that episode, you are still trailer trash. If you have good ambition, ability to focus, and brave enough to grab opportunities when they appear, The Secret is just a good motivational self-help book that gets the juice flowing.

But is Oprah the queen of The Secret pseudoscience? You bet! She can bring in the stars! As we all know, scientists are nothing compared to movie stars. It isn't good pseudoscience unless you have good hollywood backing it up.
Ok, what about the antivaxers? Jenny McCarthy is the spokeswoman and recently appeared on the O show. Vaccinations cause autism, that's the cry anyway. 

Well, I have been vaccinated. I don't have autism as far as I can tell. But there are other things vaccination is linked with. For example, egg allergies because most vaccines are grown in chicken eggs. But vaccinations are always with a little danger but it is one in a very large number. Do we really understand the risks? Not sure, but the fact is that death by polio, measles, mumps, and other nasty stuff is a pretty good incentive for vaxination.

Poor Jenny does not have a lot to stand on if she is trying to link vaccinations to autism. There just isn't any evidence. Worse if you are pushing a boycott that has far greater danger.

Is anti-vaccination pseudoscience? I don't see it, sorry. It is just bad math. If Jenny was pushing magnets instead of vaccinations, well, you have my attention then. But no, the crystals and therapy candles are missing.

Is Oprah putting a notch in her pseudoscience belt by putting Jenny on TV? Well, there I go the other way. If you classify pseudoscience as believing in what ever is pushed by a former Playboy model, well... I must admit that you are definitely in crazyville if you think that this is a public service. It reeks of pseudoscience because real science doesn't have women that are that good looking and pose naked for Playboy.

But I don't think this goes all the way. Oprah even posted a response from the American Academy of Pediatrics that poo poos a bit of the show. I am so sorry, but disclaimers on your hokum are ok, unless they are quoted from real scientists. That's not proper pseudoscience and never will be.

So, two examples. You can guess that I am not putting Oprah on the top of the list for best talk show hokum. 

I must admit some bias though. I want to be an Oprah Book of the Month selection. I'm not going to suck up to Oprah and make her Queen of Pseudoscience just to get top billing. I want the book to speak for itself. Maybe then she gets the crown, no sooner. 

What is your opinion? Who is the Queen or King of pseudoscience?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Starting a religion? Hire a martyr!

Let's take a break from the normal voodoo and get religious. According to a new study, the success of a religion is influenced by martyrs. Want to be a success? Somebody has to take one for the team!

An article in New Scientist summarizes a study that has made the sacrificial link between successful religion and its martyrs. Scientist Joseph Henrich, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of British Columbia (Canada, eh?) found that the bigger the danger and the higher the risk that a believer takes, the bigger the payoff for the religion.  

Take the simple one, running into the enemy's sword at full speed with death the only option (crusades). That would be a martyr.  Dying of torture or the death penalty for not converting your religion (inquisition), that too is a martyr. A high risk, low probability, but under the flag of the religion, yep that's a martyr. Even giving all your money to your church is being a martyr. Even dedicating your life to be a priest or nun rather than a Joe Public worshiper can be considered a martyr for the cause.

We are talking about death by choice, poverty by choice, miracles (often preceded by death by choice) and generally falling on your sword. If coming out the other side alive requires either blind luck or a miracle, the supplicant is more committed to his or her mission and thus seen as a poster child for getting on board and believing that fellow's religion. 

The true measure is sincerity. If you are willing to risk death and dismemberment to save a small child from a rabbit rabbit, no big deal. If the rabbit is ten feet tall, spewing carrot and brimstone fire, and generally evil (i.e. red glowing eyes) and certain death to challenge, well that's sincerity! 

Of course it helps to credit your beliefs, guardian angels, and god(s) involved. Simple bravery is a bit pointless. Gotta have mysticism linked to the religion to ring the marter bell. It's in the rule book.

You could look at it this way; It could be the level of bravery and a poor grasp of statistics with maybe a need to prove something, plus that mystic link. Not knocking Jesus, but anyone else that wants to start a religion or get canonized as a saint, they just need some nails. I think it helps to yell something about remembering the Alamo too.

I don't know why, but there is a lot of comparison in the article between Jesus and Superman. Nobody worships Superman. Poor Superman. I think he needs to make more sacrifices to be the martyr. Say becoming human or braving kryptonite to save the girl. Maybe forgo rewards or super hero salary and work for a living as a reporter as a sacrifice to truth and justice. Seems like sacrifice? Not the stuff of religion. Superman is just brave. He does not do this for his god. Sorry kids, Superman is an atheist. 

Is it a mortal sin to bring a Superman comic to Sunday school?

The article has some other good points to consider. Some of these can certainly apply to pseudoscience. 

Sacrifice begets sacrifice. Maybe because people believe the luck of the first guy, it must be safe if you believe hard enough. Given that we would look like a woos, we have to believe that we believe and then prove it through similar acts. Lemmings....  We see that with stupid people tricks, but it goes for religion too. One guy thinks, wow if I do that I'll get a lot of uTube hits. Second guy sees the hits and figures, why not give it a go, that guy survived, right? 

It's like lemmings (or at least the Disney version wherein a bulldozer provided the motivation). If one jumps off the cliff, the others follow. If one guy gives all his money to the cult, others will see the sincerity and do the same. Not bad if you are a cult leader. Get one rube to give away his money to your cult's bank account and then get followers to do the same. No need to drink the cool-aid when you have willing followers that are thirsty. 

The guy in charge also does not need to make the sacrifices. That's right, the cult leader does not need to be the martyr! All you need are the lemmings. Making lemming-aid from lemmings, sort to speak. Just seed one sacrifice by one rube or even a story about a rube and that is enough. It is that one guy that will be an example. Following your instructions to sacrifice only needs to be done by one volunteer, the rest will follow. Why should you sacrifice when it is all about the believers anyway?

Sacrifice of the martyr doesn't even need to be real. Just tell a damn good story about sacrifice. If the story is believable, it must be real. Given the fact we are pre-wired to believe in miracles, it isn't hard to for a good yarn that yields result. 

There is a lot of history for success in religion and martyrs. It is said that the reason Christianity got so popular in the first and second centuries is because the Romans hatted the Christians. Simply they treated them like dirt. They put them into the Coliseum and had them fight lions. These Christians would go to their deaths willingly and with a prayer. These early Christian martyrs had such conviction in their resurrection, that people believed their beliefs. Because they believed so convincingly and with such low odds and little evidence, they were great martyrs. Some, against the odds would survive and credit God. Perhaps proof or perhaps the others that failed did not pray enough, but in ether case, damn good public relations. Combined we get a lot of martyrs. 

Not knocking your religion. Hey, could be true, but you can see by the psychology that martyrs and belief go hand in hand. 

The idea that being a martyr is good is also a key idea. Sacrifice, like I said, begets sacrifice.  Martyrisim is encouraged and promoted as a ticket to heaven in many religions (you know who you are).  I once met a guy that was willing to be burned alive rather that denounce his beliefs. Even if he could tell a white lie and have the chance to convert thousands of others to his religion in secret and have a dozen babies to teach his religion. Martyrism trumps all in his mind. It is the ultimate sacrifice for belief.

We see a bit of this today. Timothy McVeigh and David Koresh. They were both martyrs feeding the beliefs of ATF/FBI/establishment haters. Their acts, if not leading to copycats, lead to deeper belief in their causes. But that's sort of ugly. You can do the same for acupuncture or crystals if the sacrifice is great enough. 

How do you think I should end this blog? What would make you believe in what I have just written? How can I convince you that martyrs are what make people believe in such crazy ideas? Throw yourself on this blog and save the lives around you! Campus Crusade for Martyrs? Sacrifice a lamb, or at least wear a wool sweater in the name of this blog. Of course I am always willing for you to donate all your worldly possessions in my name - or just make our the check to 'cash'.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tomato Tomata Placebo Nocebo

The world of pseudoscience will never be the same. We had the placebo, but now we have the nocebo. Basically we can think ourselves sick, poor, crazy, or even stupid.

We have always had the ability to say quackery is still viable by calling on placebos. You may not be able to prove why crystals or health magnets work, but you can at least say the placebo effect makes people better. The new age pseudoscientists depend on the magic of the mind to transform a hunk of dirt into miracles.

The news today at the New Scientist is that the opposite affect of placebos has been found. But here is the real punch line, they found it with voodoo.

We are talking about hexes, voodoo dolls, and all sorts of curses. If you believe it will kill you, it is a pretty good chance that your brain will pull a reverse placebo and make you sick enough to die. So, no science that a pin through the Raggedy Ann version of your heart can kill you, but the nocebo effect will kill you just the same.

Things get better. Doctors have been mistakenly prescribing nocebos for hundreds of years without knowing it.

A doctor says you have cancer and three years to live. Odds are, you will die in just about three years. You may not die of cancer, but from the nocebo diagnosis from your doctor. There is in fact documented proof of just such a case. Dr Clifton Meador writes about it in this paper. He also has a book called Symptoms of Unknown Origin: A Medical Odyssey
that addresses voodoo and the beginnings of his theories.

I love to read any book by a real doctor that mentions hexes and voodoo curses. Don't you?

But what does this mean for the professional pseudoscientist? We have science not only for placebos, but for the reality of belief-based imaginary illness. It's true, we can think ourselves into sickness and even death.

A side affect of the nocebo (pun intended) is that hypochondria is real! You do have your imaginary disease, as long as you imagine hard enough. I'd avoid any medical publications just to be safe. You might want to give up watching House or any medical shows from now on because imagination leads to some very bad medical conditions.

For the pseudoscience entrepreneur.... Oh glory be! We have mana from whatever heaven is foretold by your personal religion or agnostic fantasies. Science is on your pseudoscience side and backing up your hokum and quackery. Not only can you sell your nocebo Voodoo Dolls and Voodoo Divorce Hex Books, you can sell the placebo oriented anti-voodoo too.

I'll add one more bit of entrepenureal genius. In exchange for this advice, if you start a company, you need to send me a sizable cut of the profits if you follow this advice. Really, you should send me money. I have a voodoo doll with your name on it. If you don't, well... Like I said, this nocebo stuff really works. Do you really want to take that risk? Either send money or I have a pin with your name on it.

Here is the advise that will make you, and me by definition, rich: You can also sell your charms against the bad diagnosis of doctors! 

Remember the three years to live diagnosis? You can sell anti-hex charms to counteract the doctor's diagnosis predicting the patient's eminent death. The funny thing is that no doctor can be 100% sure of when people will die of a disease. Plus there is a lot of wiggle room. Your anti-doctor charms don't need to exactly work, but they can be an enhancement or insurance against a doctor's own sloppiness.

Wow, I can hear the sound of my happy banker now. Dr tell you that you have three years to live? Why not glue this magnet with a sacred Mayan quartz crystal to your shin bone to break that medical profession curse.

I know you want to read the article and probably tired of my little spoilers. Here is another one. When doctors gave patients placebo drugs that were like the real drugs, patients got side affects just like those of the real thing. Wow, that itchy rash goes away because of the placebo affect, but your liver is failing from the nocebo affect. Nothing comes for free, including imaginary side effects.

Side effects? This is so cool. How can I put this into words... This is cool. Not only can your placebo psuedoscience quackery cure stuff, but it can have nocebo side affects that make your snake oil sing and dance like a poorly researched but expensive Pharmaceutical. 

Why not get rid of the side affects of regular drugs too? Got a queasy stomach from your diabetes medicine? Wear this Hopi charm bag of mouse knuckles and bat's blood around your neck and you'll be right as rain.

There's some downside to this nocebo affect. The law now has a way to convince a jury to convict based on nocebo effect. A curse, hex, and even a less than positive diagnosis by a doctor or placebo side affects can cause damages or mental strife. 

Lawyers can point to a scientific cause and effect relationship. If you shoot someone with a gun, that's murder. If you curse someone to death, and they die by any cause, that's murder too. It is a slippery slope and you know the lawyers want a cut of that action. As

Tomato or tomata, placebo or nocebo, voodoo or hoodoo, it's all pseudoscience. We can now feel confident that real research by real professionals backs up any claim we can imagine, especially when it is related to the mind. Good for the consumer and good for the pseudoscientist. Yes, some bad, but they said that about the atomic bomb and now we have radioactive glow in the dark watch faces, so we can live with the fallout. 

Let me know what you think. That's what the comment section is for. Cursing is ok, but please no curses.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Surveys and Astrology

Astrology predicts lots of good things. Best time to plant crops, eclipses, tides, menstruation (good if making babies), migration, shadows on the sundial. The only problem is that this was.... well assumed to be related to many other things. This is easy for ancient man as it is for the modern Oprah Secret crowd. If you can prove one thing is regular as clockwork, why not simply assume it controls many other things.

Lunar tides, our path around the Sun, and the effects are very real. It is just natural to start fantasizing about birthdays, planets, and constellations.

Read Malcom Gladwell's 'Outliers'. It is a fact that Hockey players born in specific month were more likely to be the better players on their teams. You could easily apply this to astrology. The root cause is really the relative maturity when kids can sign up. Just a coincidence of birthday and a yearly ritual.

Same could be said of ancient warriors. If they sign up at a specific time each year, those born such that they are older and more mature than the average kid, they become the stronger warriors and maybe the sergeants and captains.

For our warrior, the day each year they start the warrior tryouts is what defines who will be more successful.  The age of the recruits, not their star sign, is what defines the odds of being a kick ass warrior. Kids born a month or two before the annual date would have a low success. Those born just after would be nearly a year older and bigger.  If tryouts are in April, those born in May will be the most successful, while those born say in February would be less so.

Astrology works for many such coincidences. Given one coincidence, people see and extrapolate even more. Even to self delusion. Astrology is alive and kicking today because it is child's play to extrapolate from tides to planets moving through constellations. Add some tricky tables and calculations, you get something that sounds like science.

Surveys, personality tests, focus groups, ratings, and other tools of the trade can become astrology. All it takes is a little truth to make a bigger lie.

One that struck me funny was the "Bradley Effect". Tom Bradley, and African America, was ahead in the polls for Califormia governor. But on election day, Bradley lost. The thought was that for a pole people would say they would vote and in the booth, their prejudices, hidden by the privacy of the voting curtain, would rise up and they would vote for the white guy. Of course this was a common topic for the presidential election.

Is the Bradley Effect real? Well it seemed to work a few times. My guess that for the next 20 years whenever race is an issue, you will see the "Bradley Effect". It only had to seem right once or twice. To do that, all you need is a poll that is up before the election with a loss of the election by the same candidate - oh and they need to be a minority.

There is absolutely no evidence that the Bradley Effect was caused by switching votes. In fact there is no way to prove it because of the sanctity of the voting booth and an American's god given right to lie to a pollster. The real reason could be apathy or a push for the opposition between polling and voting or even just random chance of the poll samples missing the real voters intentions.

I'd love to say there is a way out of this. Surly their is some way to dispel the crackpot ideas. Maybe, maybe not. Anything that can be extrapolated based on one or two data points is in danger of wild speculation that becomes fact. People see the hand of God or the genius of a pollster, or that only eating a hot dog in the 7th inning will win a ball game

Only lots of data can prove your point about bad numbers. If you go for statistically accurate data and eliminate possible biases(like randomizing questions are asked, when, who asked, and what order), you can have a fighting chance. If you have data that can go either way, your data can be misused or misinterpreted. But be warned, people still don't see statistics, they see meaning.

The real problem comes with other peoples data and conclusions. Really look at their stats and how they collected the data. Don't accept at face value the result of any amateur survey or straw poll.

Sure it may be right, but play the skeptic for a while to be sure. At least that's what my horoscope said today.

Ever been stuck with bad data and a wild guess at what it proved? Were you able to disprove the bad assumptions? What was the clinching argument or fact? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pseudoscience "Get out jail free!" card

Pseudoscience has often been linked at the hip with religion. But people are creative! That's really what pseudoscience is, creative thinking without the heavy weight of facts acting against you. Sort of like ignoring your cement overshoes pulling you into the inky ocean depths as you ignore the existence of organized crime.

Today I read an article about a cult family who starved an 18 month old child to death for not saying 'amen' at meals. That word, amen, has a lot od pseudoscientific power, or at least we assume so. Certainly not saying it caused the parents to go insane. It is a tragedy and not funny. Death is death and a pointless death of a child is the worst. But here comes the legal pseudoscience:

The mother pleaded guilty on the condition that all charges be dropped if her child was resurrected...

She didn't just make that up. No, the cult thought it through a long time before the police arrived. They had packed the dead child into a suitcase with some moth balls to await the blessed moment. They even traveled with the luggage, but ultimately stored the luggage with a friend, met at a dollar store, in his backyard shed. 

Just to clear the air, according to the cult leader, Queen Antoinette (no kidding and she still has her head), the resurrection has not yet taken place because the cult members have not reached a level of belief sufficient to trigger the event. A hallmark of religious pseudoscience is that you need to really believe. Miracles don't happen on their own.

That's great pseudoscience and the best legal defense all thrown into a blender with a few herbs and spices. Pure genius! But it gets better as pseudoscience of psychology on the side of the law is biting at religion's heels.

The prosecutors  say that this family can not be considered criminally insane. They do not suffer from any delusion or mental disability, they are simply people of faith. They did this on purpose because they were following a religion.  We can't call religions crazy or we are calling most people are crazy. That would be crazy! 

Let's say that a bit differently: You are not insane if your crazy actions are part of your god given right as an American citizen to practice your religion. It's a free speech issue. The caveat of course is that crazyish criminal behavior, religion or not, is still criminal. Worse than that, you can no longer play the crazy card at your trial. 

Isn't this cool? Not only do the criminals use great pseudoscience, but our legal system is on board too. Better yet, the legal system has the trump card. 

Is this the golden age of pseudoscience?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Starting a Pseudoscience Business

There's a lot to pseudoscience, time to cover the most important one: good honest fraud. I am speaking of course about the pseudoscience scam business.

Let's be clear, this is not where you believe in the pseudoscience, everyone else does and gives you money for the pleasure. Seems sacrilegious, but it is perfectly fine as it still fits with the science of the lack of real science. Pseudoscience is for evil and profit too! And it is profitable pseudoscience!

Nothing wrong with a little cash, so let's play pseudoscience entrepreneur with an evil bent. You just need to be willing to cheat your grandmother out of her life savings. The road to wealth is paved with lies and the gullible. 

Before I go to far, let me point out that there are a lot of folks making money on pseudoscience. Not all are crooks. Well, maybe crooks, but not all of them are stealing just to be stealing. I have said it before and I will say it again: Never assume malice when simple stupidity will suffice. Don't let the crooks give pseudoscience a bad name. In fact, where the crooks succeed in promoting a non-supportable science, they help all pseudoscientists.

Not going too deep, just want to start the conversation on great scams via pseudoscience. Here are some pointers. You have seen some of these ideas before, but these are qualified with a bit of evil on the back side to help with cash flow. 


I love secrets. Secret formulas, secret process, secret ingredients, etc. Any secret is good when you are hiding from reality. The keys to really good pseudoscience is removing reality, ignoring the facts, and generally putting your head in the sand. But hiding the reality is just as good. 

The Rube Employee

The next thing you need is a rube. Not the rube like the mark, also known as the victim, we mean an employee that believes deep in their heart that your snake oil is milked by hand from the best snakes fed the best organic ingredients.

You might say, "I am a psychopathic lier and have no problem convincing marks. Why do I need employees that believe this drivel?" Well, that's great, you can lie. But you are only one person, you can't be everywhere. You need to take a vacation with all that money, right? 

You don't want do all the work, do you? 

There is also a problem training people to lie. It is much easier to teach people to ignore facts. Why teach people to lie when you can simply convince them that it is real and let them sell with a straight face and a skip in their step!

There is also a liability of having employee lie. They get used to it. It starts small, with the coffee money and pens disappearing and suddenly the corporate bank account is empty and so is the chair of your best lier.

Expert Rube

An expert rube is also quite nice to have. If you want to make some quick cash, get into an established market of pseudoscientific belief. There is a lot of pseudoscience that is already primed to make you money. The added benefit is that people already believe in this garbage and that is less work for you! 

Where do you find established markets? A trip to Sedona, Arizona will be a simple one stop shop. Their are many mom and pop pseudoscientists living in that town. But a simple place to start is just your local book store or if you dare, the community library. Look for New Age and you will find hundreds of books that can be the seed of a million dollar business.

The New Ideas

The new idea is related to what we were talking about with the expert rubes. Pseudoscience is a very fertile field. Just take an idea and give it a little twist to get a whole new market. 

You could take anything from magnets, crystals, charms, homeopathy, chiropractic, and others. 

An easy example of this is health magnets. There is not much proof that magnets can make you smarter, but their are a lot of people that believe it reduces pain or disease. Find one of these pseudoscience experts and either work the same angle or you can put an idea in their head to create a new one. 

My favorite example is the gluing of tiny magnets onto you ears at the same points as acupuncture(look it up, its real). This mixing of two pseudoscientific ideas is a marketing gold mine! Better yet, it is a conversation starter when you see your buddy's ear stuck to a metal wall or an SUV in the parking lot. The product can sell its self!

Not to say that tiny magnets on your ears won't cause people to lose weight. I can't say no or yes to that according to my lawyer. Acupuncture is also not quite a full blown pseudoscience because their are indeed things that happen to your body when you poke it in the right places. But mixing these acupuncture and magnets is still an incredible leap and could have been started with a list of pseudoscience disciplines and a dartboard. 

For your convenience I will supply a pseudoscience dart board in the book. Am I a great guy or what?

Business Lifetime

A pseudoscience based business, for profit or for self delusion, is usually a long term business. This isn't like a regular scam where you have to keep a bag packed and your profits in large denominations next to your tickets for a country without extradition treaties with the USA.

Look at homeopathy. It is pure pseudoscience, right? Anybody go to prison for homeopathy? No! 

Homeopathy proves the longevity of the hokum-based business. It has been around since 1796. How come their isn't a homeopathy  practitioner being perp walked into court every day? 

You need to follow the rules. The legal system is rigged by people that believe in pseudoscience to allow pseudoscience business to operate. Why? Either the lawmakers fell for it or their wife swears by it. That's my this is such a great business because we are so easily duped. 

What are the rules? Never guarantee a cure. You can only guarantee the buyer will be satisfied with their purchase. Even offer their money back! Nobody has ever returned a thigh master, or a crystal that 'might' cure cancer. You also get less complaints from the Better Business cops.

Let's add one very important idea for success, the sugar pill affect. If what you are trying to do will can occur based on either chance, change of habits,passing of time, low or high probability of an event, or a positive mental attitude, you have a great product on your hands. What this means simply is that you can point to your product working based on these other factors. 

Let's take those little pills that are supposed to help you keep from getting sick when you fly. Basically they are vitamins and minerals. They might help boost immunity because many of us don't get proper nutrition, but can they stop getting a cold or the flu? Of course not. They are not anti viral.  But why do a lot of people buy them? Simply  your chances of flying and getting sick at the same time is extremely low. 

Let me say that a bit differently. According to the CDC (the real scientists that track sickness), the odds of you catching the flu is 5 to 20 percent per year. Less if you have been vaccinated and even less if you open doors with your elbows. 

So, if you are on an airplane with 100 people, a max of 20 will get the flu, right? Wrong! The CDC odds are for whole cities, and many months. Say it is four months, odds of anyone even having the flu before before you get on the plane is mind numbingly low. But say there is just one guy, you are even less likely to sit next to that guy unless your last name is Murphy. 

When we add all this up, the end result is that you won't catch a virus when you are on an airplane. So, if you sell vitamins that are targeted at the airplane market and fears of cold and flu, you are really selling alligator repellent to Eskimos. In other words it isn't really an effective measure, but it seems to work! 

The Oops Fraud Business

Sometimes you start a pseudoscience business and you figure out it is all self-delusion. That's ok. Really, if you are still making money, why turn off the money machine? 

But how do you live with yourself? That's easy. You can still rest assured that the placebo affect is going to continue to make happy customers. Your soul is safe and your bank account is full. 

If you have an anti-gravity device that just does not work, you may have some problems. There isn't a placebo for gravity. Things are not hopeless. You can still roll in the cash for a while. The key is that investors will stay until things fail. The key is to never fail. Delay, have problems, have ideas waiting in the wings. Just never have a live test that you guarantee will be successful. 

Your soul should be clear with a failed anti-gravity device too. Look at it as educating your investors on how stupid it is to believe in anti-gravity.

Make Money

Well, that's enough for now. Feel free to comment or contact me directly about your new business. 

FYI, I have already invested in an anti-gravity device, so not looking for new opportunities. 

One more thing. Another great money maker, consulting! My rates are reasonable. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Language of Pseudoscience

All sciences have rules about naming, including pseudoscience. The biologists have their latin, astronomers use gods or characters of fantasy, and the particle physicists have their cutsie quarks that go up and down, etc. Pseudoscience has its pseudoscientific and some cool anti-science judo.

A top notch pseudoscientist must learn this language. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, even a pseudoscientist  to memorize special terms. Just because you are a pseudoscientist doesn't mean a free pass. 

You need to be smart be a great pseudoscientist. You can't just be blind to reality, you need to defend your ideas.  The good news is that bad science wins over good science if you use the right language.

This isn't just about terms you use for pseudoscience concepts, but also anti-science Judo. Pseudoscientists must study their own fields and fight off the the real scientists. There is only so much money out their. You need to be able to sell and defend your ideas and even make real science look worse than pseudoscience.

Fighting the traditional scientist isn't too hard. The language - i.e. the code words - shows how simple this is. The secret is that as a pseudoscientist, you don't need to prove anything. No logic, no scentific method, just a rapier wit and stubbornness to see reality.

I'm not going to go through all the terms. Just the good ones. There are more, but I don't want anyone to strain anything with too much memorization. 

Scientific Materialism

The great pseudoscientists label the opposition with scientific materialism. The real scientists are usually paid by universities and scientific institutions. They must be rich beyond the dreams of avarice or at least be pushing theories with dreams of million dollar homes dancing in their heads. Some people confuse 'avarice' with a person. Avarice is just a word for a greedy money grubbing capitalist. By capitalist, we mean steal from the good people and especially from the wallets of pseudoscientists.

Use this scientific materialism to question the believability of research. Even the question that  money is tickling the palms of legitimate scientists can put a hole in otherwise perfect research. This is a great method because everyone needs a paycheck. This works especially well against scientists making near minimum wage in universities. They find it so absurd that they don't even argue against the implication.

Even when the scientists are the equivalent of slave labor that just love their jobs, the folk that fund their research become high value targets. Why is their money? Unless you are a church, then the only answer is greed. Any higher goals of the scientific method, knowledge for the sake of knowledge, trying to make a better world, or searches for the secrets of the universe are all null and void. Spend a penny and you are tainted by the green patina of greed.

Intelligent Design

This is now an old term for creationism. Don't use it. The scientists already know where you live and here your children go to school. Sadly the clockmaker analogy was a big mistake because the human design is flawed. Too many creationists are also ugly.  

Irreducible Complexity

If you don't have a complete answer, then their is no answer except aliens, gods, or demons. That's right, aliens. You don't need to be religious to use a term created by the bible thumpers. This can save millions in pointless research because you can stop and publish your results when things get hard to understand. Just voice your opinion and write a book.

Cartesian Dualism

This is sort of body and soul or spirit. We are vessels driven by souls. This is a great term to deflect  nature verses nature or to explain any behavior you can't explain. Quite simply people are either controlled by a god or by an evil spirit. As these entities are spirits, and you are part spirit, you can be hijacked. 

Darwinism and Darwinists

Either of these is a belittling attack on evolution. It is simpler to say a man is wrong rather than attack the theories of evolution and biology. You can take any scientist and use their name as a discipline to bring down their ides. It is good sport. Dig up dirt on your critics!

This is even better when you do this with the guys that are long dead. They can't argue! Better yet, you can argue against their original ideas. This is golden because even though their could be a hundred years of advances in the science, you can poke holes in the untested musings of their scientific patron saint. 

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is a fun term to use. This is also Judo-like because it stops people from stopping you. Your freedom includes questioning the veracity and heritage of opponents or linking your ideas with religion and opinions, not matter how crazy.

Invoking academic freedom is like saying that questioning pseudoscience is un-American. Free speech is the inalienable right to be heard, even if you wan to spout nonsense. This works both ways, so be careful and carry a bigger American flag. 

Common Sense

Common sense is a very useful term, an old hallmark of pseudoscience. This is a Judo word as it will throw your opponent. 

Any wild idea can be transformed into common sense. If you are the only nut job that believes in something, it is common sense, at least to you. This works great to belittle the real scientists as it is plain common sense that they are barking up the wrong tree.

Quantum Physics

Quantum physics is my favorite term in pseudoscience. Once had a physics professor in university that said that because of quantum physics, you could pass through walls, suddenly appear a foot to the left, or transform a mad badger into mayonnaise. This is all based on the premiss that quantum particles are squirmy.  You can't show where the bits of quantum fluff are, you have to use probability to guess. Q.E.D guessing is pseudoscience! 

When you use probability, you can jigger the numbers into the improbable. Even though an electron can be anywhere in its orbit, it could be in the next county participating in a canasta tournament too. Teleportation, invisibility, ghosts, telepathy, politics, and God can be bandied about by rubber-banding quantum physics to any theory or belief.

If you are religious, this is lots of fun. Who could be controlling these bits of quantum foam in your latte? Same goes for New Age thinking. Who's to say we can't manipulate probabilities? Better yet, why not get aliens or Atlantans with secret science?

Your Terms?

What is your favorite pseudoscientific term? I want to know. Remember I am writing the Boy's Book of Pseudoscience. No money, but I can get your name in the footnotes! Write to me directly if you have to, or use the comments below. 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Time to join a 'secret' university

Just read an article about The Invisible College. Basically subscription-based website where you get to see 'secret' papers and lectures. Cool beans!

Approach with caution. Secret usually means you are looking at things that are not peer reviewed or forced to follow certain rules. In other words, any wackjob can do something in secret. You may have met these people at parties. They dress strangely and talk about their time machines.

I don't want to say this is total bunk. It is however up to you to glean the truth from this supposed secret information. Some indeed may have been reviewed in the secret communities they derive from.  However secret or closed communities have their own issues as well. Best to be careful about their motivations.  

Strangly the site says that they are looking at such things as pyramid studies in a scientific manner rather than "bedevilled by woolly thinking". Not sure what 'woolly' means in this context, but it could be good or it could be bad. If you are going to study the factors that may cause magical thinking and thus pseudoscience, this might be worth the subscription price. 

Just look at their schools of study to see where they are headed (Note that the referenced link ends with dummy.htm). We are not talking about secrets of chemistry behind Post-it Notes types of information, we are talking alchemy. Nor are we talking really about astronomy, but astrology and the secret language of the stars. By my estimate their may or may not be ten percent science. The rest is... well pseudoscience. 

If only they offered a doctoral program, I'd sign up today. At $14 a year on Paypal this is a price almost worth the laughs I'll get. That's cheaper than a night out at the movies.

Why don't we start a secret society of critical thinkers? We can sacrifice cattle, one steak at a time. We can toast each bit of our secret knowledge with the drink of your choice. 

Friday, March 6, 2009

Graph Proves Pseudoscience is Real

There are slow news days and then there are slow blog days. On slow blog days, you skim. The following link was referenced by my arch nemesis of pseudoscience. I know who he is, so no ned to go into all that battle of psychology of pseudoscience verses stupid people cause pseudoscience. 

This graph below was just made up (hit it to link to the original). There isn't any data behind it. Well, there is data, that's how we get graphs like this. So, made up, but the graph has a lot of truth gleaned from the author's experience in the world. 

The truth of this graph is in how we create our beliefs based on their source. In fact, we usually start with another source rather than our own observations. You don't make up an idea in your head and start believing. You start a belief with something you are told, read, see, or hear. The source of the information and the quality of the telling are what get you to belief in the proposed. You are also not likely to go out and confirm the perceived facts. Worse, you will see evidence for such 'facts' everywhere you look and ignore competing data.

The next bit gets a little hairy, hang on. The reason for all of this is that our brain is not really wired for experiments after a certain point. We learn in general what sources to trust and what a lie looks like. Sadly we don't always learn too well nor do our sources always have the absolute truth all the time. There are also quite a few famous liars out there.

The graph is missing some information. It should be a 3D plot because it needs to show the inability of the person believing to change their mind on the subject. People that watch Oprah probably would go to their graves believing what she says.

The brain is lazy. It saves energy to have an authority do all the work for you. Why do you think Oprah is the richest woman in the world? It is her ability to do the thinking for you that gives her all that power. Even though my book are no Color Purple, I want Oprah to recommend them because they will become best sellers as fast as Amazon can start taking orders the moment my name is mentioned in Oprah show teasers weeks before I am on TV.

It only takes a little respect or a believable statement to trigger belief. The worst issue is that this works in all of us. Even those that are best able to tell truth from fiction, they will often go to a restaurant recommended by a friend. Oprah will probably let another author dup her about their fantasy of their fake self-biography. 

Let's end with the bar in the graph titled, "Read in an email which was proved wrong years ago". Why is that so high? And why is it usually from people over age 55 that send those emails? My guess is that the news industry that has caused this. If we are used to believing in the news because in general it is fair, balanced, and fact checked (we assume), then we will believe anything that reads or sounds like the news. Just write in the third person and give a good title and you now have factual news as far as the reader can tell. 

Think about this. Do you double check every fact you hear on the news? You might question some of it (more so now that Fox News confuses news with commentary), but you don't go out and re-contact the story's sources. 

It is human nature to want to hear the truth. 

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