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 Secret usually means you are looking at things that are not peer reviewed or forced to follow certain rules.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. 

song chart memes
more music charts

Monday, March 2, 2009

Unnecessary Medical Pseudoscience Procedures

This blog is not about women's health. Just want to warn you. This just happens to be in the news today and it sort of proves my point about the dangers of pseudoscience.

In Newsweek you will see an article that is one of the biggest reasons I started this blog and the accompanying book. Basically doctors are giving  tests to women that can't have the disease they are testing for.

Million women without a cervix are getting Pap tests. A Pap test (also called a Pap Smear) is used to detect cancer of the cervix. If you don't have a cervix, you can't get cancer of the cervix. Hard to test for a disease of something you don't have.

This is sort of like testing the eyesight of someone that has lost their head. This would be even funnier if it was something that was funny to everyone. Sorry it is not all joy and skittles, but this is about pseudoscience and we sometimes need one tragedy to point out another.

Why are doctors doing these pointless tests? Is it science? Well, it is based on science. They are following recommendations from doctors and perhaps scientists. The advice is that every woman who is sexually active should have the test. It is usually done as part of a general exam every one to five years.  The test is recommended by smart people, so they do it. The recommendations are based on a lot of good science. Sadly their is a little reasoning that they are forgetting with some of their patients.

The reason for the pseudoscience is nothing more than habit. It is mental inertia. A thought in motion remains in motion. Condition and response. 

You start doing Pap tests for every checkup and you keep doing it. No questions asked. You do it once and you will do it again. Why do you think that you drink so much Starbucks coffee. Sure the first one was good, but by the 30th cup it is definitely a creature of habit that asks for that latte.

Are doctors making an extra buck because they know they can? Maybe a few. Certainly the people that make the test, don't go out of their way to prevent excessive testing. I can't imagine there's  a big conspiracy of doctors and test labs out there. My favorite quote that applies here: Never assume malice, when simple stupidity will explain it all.

Is this about insurance companies somehow benefitting from this? Probably not. Again, just habit. Perhaps it's cheaper to test than it is to customize the procedures to exclude women who have had hysterectomies.  But here again it may be habit.

Even the women should know better. But they too are under the spell  of habit. They might question the procedure, but odds are that they won't because of another hobgoblin of pseudoscience: Authority. Authority causes all sorts of miscommunication and assumptions. The doctor prescribes a test, why question? They are a doctor, right?

Authority reenforces the habits. Even the doctors and insurance companies are under the influence of the authority figures that created the guidelines. 

As you can see, though this is an issue with women's health, it is really about habit and authority.

One last thing is stupidity. Are these people stupid? Is your doctor incompetent? My argument is no. Habits are hard to break and authority is a powerful reenforcement. 

Ask a doctor why and I'll bet they'll be as confused as you. Ten to one they will slap themselves on the forehead and say, "Duh! I never thought of it that way." Perfectly smart people, just lacking proper frame of mind and a knowledge of the evils of pseudoscience.

Want to fight pseudoscience at the doctor? Do your own research and ask questions.

Forward this blog to your doctor and anyone else that may be surprised.

In the beginning, there was pseudoscience

This blog is about two types of science: Bad science and pseudoscience. Bad science is included because it is pseudoscience for all the good it does. The blog is meant to be fun and give you a good chuckle. We will try to change the world, but we are doing it with a smile on our faces. 

The goal is to recognize not just the pseudoscience, but why it exists. We are not going to bash people's intellegence like other blogs. There are some very real reasons people believe in nonsense. The human mind is a nasty and dirty place that lets all sorts of strange thoughts and beliefs run amok. 

We are not logic creatures. Wacking someone on the head with logic will usually annoy them. Better to find out that they are delusional by reading a blog. Really, that is one way. People like authority, even if it is a blog. We'll play some games with our delusional friends.

I'll cover subjects from good old fashioned science to, marketing, religion, and education. It is all fair game if their is a dodgy belief rather than hard science. 

Not going to get too deep into the guts of science. This is more not about calculators or statistics. If it is, you will be warned and can skip that bit. No reason for anyone to get hurt. We just want to uncover the incoherent bits that make people believe in the impossible. Calculator not required.

I'll need some help. Send me email. Write in the comments. I am working on a book of the same name and books don't write themselves. If you want to get your name mention (or not) in a book, please participate.

There are two other blogs you may also be interested in:

Stop on by. They are all fun. Look for these books to be published on Amazon soon.