Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Placebo of Placebo

Well, I thought we had a little bit of good news to round out the end of the year's pseudoscience news. Basically some scientists tried to see if people knew that they were taking drugs that were fake, would they still work. Glory be, the scheme worked! Here is an article and the paper.

But alas, there is a problem with scientists looking into magical effects. Yep, magical. A pill that does nothing but causes an effect and that is magic, right?

First, credit where credit is due. Orac, a computer best known for his contribution of the Blake's 7 crew, looked close at the paper and saw the flaws. Here is Orac's analysis.

The upshot is that the study unfortunately did what most studies of pseudoscience do, they let the cat out of the bag and that probably skewed the results. First, the advertised ads looking for study participants sounded cool. You always get skewed results when patients think there is something cool going on.  

The second problem was that it was not a double blind study. They either gave the patients placeboes or told the participant to go home and do nothing. A double blind would have had placeboes, a fake placebo (a drug not cleverly labeled 'Placebo' like the one in the study).

Not sure if they should have had people that were told to do nothing.... Seems sort of odd. Back to that cool advert, if you found out you were in the "do nothing" group, wouldn't you go home all depressed and maybe your results would be better than getting a pill bottle labeled 'Placebo' (remember, very cleverly labeled).

Experiment - Placebo Crystals

Time for another great experiment!

1) Head to your favorite purveyor of fine rocks and pick up a few hundred quarts crystals.
2) Create envelopes that will hold the crystal and one of three different notes written thus:

    Note 1: Greetings! You have been selected to take part in an important study. This envelope contains a crystal from a mountain in the Andes near the mystic city of Kolumbunga. It is used as a very powerful placebo. In three days, please send an email to and tell us if you feel better or worse.

   Note 2: Greetings! You have been selected to take part in an important study. This envelope contains a crystal. It is used as a placebo. In three days, please send an email to and tell us if you feel better or worse. 

  Note 3: Greetings! You have been selected to take part in an important study. This envelope contains a crystal. In three days, please send an email to and tell us if you feel better or worse. 

   Note 4: Greetings! You have been selected to take part in an important study. In three days, please send an email to and tell us if you feel better or worse. 

Put crystals with notes 1, 2 and 3, but nothing in the 4th envelope. 

4) Recruit a few hundred people to run your experiment. If you want to be reasonably random, stand in front of your school, a supermarket, department store or Mickey D's and recruit.

5) Tally your results from the emails and any comments you may have received along with the better or worse indicator. Don't forget to count the numbers of non-respondents as people not saying anything is like someone talking and saying nothing (sounds Buddhist, but trust us, it is important).

Did you get better results for Note 1? We bet you will, so perhaps you should start selling mood enhancing crystals from Kolumbunga.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Commentary: Tarot Cards as a Psychological Tool

Jennifer Marre in her blog, Tarot Cards as a Psychological Tool, posits that Tarot cards are not paranormal, just cards with symbols. That's cool by us. Sure there is a lot of pseudoscience, but stating they are just cards sort of diffuses that. But this blog (about the book) is about pseudoscience. What good would we be without some way to totally rip apart the fact that Tarot is more than just a deck of cards with pictures?

Let's start with Jennifer's premiss: Tarot cards have symbols and thus they cause people to create interpretations based on their interpretation of the symbolism... Oh, and a psychologist/therapist can interpret those interpretations to help a person somehow with therapy based on the interpretations of interpretations.

Now we're talking! That sounds like pseudoscience!

 Sure, I like the core that they are just pictures, but Jennifer may have a problem with basic science. Oh yeah, this is psychology... There is not a lot of science in psychology.

Anyway, here is the flaw: You can't tie any response to a card to root causes. It is just sort of impossible. Worse still, the interpretation of the interpretation depends on the interpreting observers history and assumptions.

Let's take the simple case, say the patient plops down the Death card... The patient's interpretation is based on their life experience and pre-wired assumptions that were built on that experience. Their reaction will be based on too many to count, let alone trace to a single root cause for the interpretation. Their reading might be that they see change, death, loss, or even feel that the therapist is indoctrinating them into the devil's science. Those interpretations are just what comes out, there is no way for sure to understand why.

On the other side, the interpreter, say a therapist, has their own assumptions pre-wired. Their life experience does the same thing to both their focus of observations and their interpretations. For example, if the patient is seeing loss, the therapist could believe there was a recent loss in the patient's life or assume the loss was related to childhood trauma. Or, as would be rather obvious, the idea of loss is just what they learned was the interpretation of the card from a friend, book, movie, Oprah, or combinations.

The bottom line though is that there is no way to run an experiment. You know, that silly nerdy stuff  called the Scientific Method. This is a problem with most psychology. Not that I place psychology into pseudoscience, but it will always be on the edge of full blown testable and provable science. There is just no way to get a repeatable and independently verifiable result form human brains. Too messy! If they weren't messy we wouldn't have all those religions or more than one political party.

Sure this could be a tool. But as a tool it is one of the worst. With a hammer and nail you can fairly accurately  drive a nail into a piece of wood(given a little training of course). There is no way that Tarot could be used to any level of accuracy. It is more like a wet noodle with the nail driving itself from belief –poor metaphor, but I am a result of all my experience to this moment in time.

I guess the danger is in just one word used: Interpretation. The moment we 'interpret' we are on the slippery slope of pseudoscience and the danger of conclusions based on belief rather than reality.

That's the lesson. Want to be a great pseudoscientist, be an interpreter of interpretations.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Global Warming Skeptic Upset

Hard to believe, but one of the greatest global warming skeptic of all times has fallen off the wagon. Professor Bjørn Lomborg, an environmental skeptic and enemy of blog writers that can't find the ø on their keyboards, has just produced a new book that says global warming is true and that the best way to solve the problem is to stop burning fossil fuels. He will be missed.

With much sadness, we will mark Professor  Bjørn's passing into the mainstream by putting a few oil soaked pelicans in the gas tank and drive no place in particular (i.e. Fresno, California).

What is really sad is that Professor Bjørn never denied global warming. He only complained about its cost to prevent the human effects. My only guess is that he finally did the math (something forbidden in pseudoscience). Simply, the cost of wind power and stuff like that is actually much cheaper than loosing his beach front property (acquired from proceeds of his prior anti-alternitive-energy book) to the ocean rising because of glacier melt.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Simple Guide for Proving Anything

I steal. There are a lot of good people out there that are smarter than myself, or at least they have more time to be smarter than I do. I am not proud. I like to point to those I steal from because proper stealing saves time, but keeps you out of prison.

I have talked a lot about how to ensure your pseudoscience is seen as science and even make science seem like pseudoscience. It is always endearing when I see that I am right.

Here is the list from Tusanami's great blog at Young Australian Skeptic:Pseudoscientific Arguments — A Simple Guide For Proving Anything

  1. Refer to science as dogma, a few times if possible.
  2. Decide on your argumentative position and then cherry pick some evidence..
  3. Read up on logical errors — these are best used as part of a convoluted argument
  4. Find an Einstein quote that sounds like it might be relevant.
  5. Have a thesaurus on hand (a better vocabulary makes your argument stronger).
  6. Write with an authoritative tone.
  7. Use scientific jargon out of context.
  8. Tout your ideas as ones that scientists are incapable of or unwilling to consider.
  9. Dispute the whole concept of a scientific fact.
  10. Use scientific facts when necessary, but warp them to support your ideas.
  11. Use labels, slander, analogies, anecdotes etc. as evidence.
  12. Start out with your more scientifically-​​sound material (e.g. stuff you learned in school, or from wikipedia) to gain the reader’s trust, then degrade into the realm of nonsense.
  13. An accusatory tone can also help — everybody loves drama.
  14. Kick it up a notch with a full-​​blown conspiracy theory — guaranteed to get you a cult following.
Here are a few additional ideas that I came up with (you know I am right):

15) Quote people that agree with you
16) Misquote or quote out of context people that disagree with you (like 4, but simpler)
17) Use statements like 'everyone knows', 'we all agree', 'only a minority disagree', 'any doctor would tell you', 'what scientists won't tell you', and any other misleading statement, no matter how untrue. Special credit for quoting Fox News.
18) "You know I am right", is a great way to cause someone to agree with you.
19) Use the word 'natural'

In essence, the use of logical fallacies works, but the key is to sell your pseudoscience with emotion and especially in ways that makes the reader feel stupid if they don't agree with you. This is exactly what Fox News does. If it works for Fox News, it is 110% approved for use by pseudoscience.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Pseudoscience of Hate

Why hate? Quite simply hatred is the first step on the road to Pseudoscience. The best way to get someone to believe in your ideas is not to debate and disprove the competition. That's a fool's errand that is worse when you are a respected pseudoscientist.

The best way to prove your point is to de-huminize the competition. You want people to feel only hate and fear for your opponent. The masses will simply not believe any proof from a devil incarnate or a godless heathen.

Here is another great experiment for the budding pseudoscientist:

Have a debate with a scientist on if the Earth is flat. Say to the listeners of the debate that the scientist likes children in inappropriate ways, worships the devil, loves Hitler, and is only doing this for the money. Don't be afraid to say that the scientist is not human. De-huminizing is the best method for slamming an adversary. People love to hate and it is easier if they are not human or less than human.

Another technique is to prove they do not belong to a certain club, like Christians or Republicans. Better yet, make sure you call them Liberal, Democrat or Atheist! Catholic is ok too because nothing better than to make them a part of a club that Glenn Beck already hates.

Debate is not what we are really teaching here. Do not be afraid of the 'debate' word. Just promote fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) - throw in a heaping cup full of hate too. You may not win, but you will seed the FUD in the minds of the listeners.

Remember, and intelligent argument will only cause you to loose in a fair fight with a scientist.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Experiments for Budding Pseudoscience

Here are a few good experiments for budding Pseudoscientist:

  1. Ask people what it would take for them to discard a belief. Then give them what they need and see if they still believe.
  2. Compare the IQ of people that believe and not believe in a pseudoscience.
  3. Invent a fact and convince people it is real. Then show them it is not real. See how many still believe that the fact is real.
If you have more experiments, let me know!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Pseudoscience And Food!!!!

Jamie Oliver (Naked Chef) has a new show on Sunday (March 26 at 9pm ET on ABC). Sadly this is going to put a dent in a great tradition of pseudoscience in the food labs. You might not think there is pseudoscience in the lab at McDonalds,The Cheesecake Factory, or just about any food manufacturer. I was unaware too, so let us start on a little journey.

I started learning about the great tradition of pseudoscience by reading The End of Over Eating, by David Kessler. It seems that if you look at modern food, from Cheetos to... well the Cheesecake Factory. The book very carefully explains how the combination of sugar, salt, and fat cause our brains (and the well fed brains of experimental rats) are hypnotized into overeating.

Where is the Pseudoscience? I can hear you asking, "They are using rats, that is real science!" Yes, they have science, but they are leaving something out of the equation and that is why food science is usually pseudoscience  - especially when practiced by a food company. The little thing they leave out is the full equation in the cause and effect department.

If you make food really really good, people will eat a lot of food. This is because these scientific frankensteins of salt, sugar, and fat are cheap, and available in quantity. Nobody at the drive up window says you can't order two burgers and supersize the Coke and fries. Simply our brain treats the food like a light weight cocaine causes us to then gain weight.

Here is a great Boys Book experiment: Try to resist a good bowl of m&m's. There is a reward when you get the fatty sugar rolling around your mouth. Feel and hear that goodness packaged in that healthy celery stalk like crunch. Better yet, though branding, you know every m&m tastes like an m&m and has that same reward. You are going to be rewarding before you ever pick one up and when you do, reward! Why not reward yourself with another m&m for being a very perceptive bipedal mammal! Record how many you eat, despite feeling something has hypnotized you.

You should try this experiment with Cheetos or any other snack food, candy, frozen pizza, fast food, etc. Even juice boxes, fresh squeezed, boxed for your convenience, orange juice. Even fruit, if it is the right ripeness and sugar content, or dipped in dark chocolate (white chocolate to add a bit more fat).

The key parameter of this experiment is to put about ten servings in front of you and see how long and how hard it is to not eat it all in one sitting despite your propensity to look and sound like Jaba the Hut.

Back to the pseudoscience before we go. Remember that I said they were leaving out the fact  we will consume such food until we can cram no more in our mouths? Well that is just a part of the non science. You see the other missing info is that thing called nutrition. I also said fat, sugar, and salt. Where is the sugar coming from? When you eat a big mac, where is the sugar? Fries are covered in salt and fat right, not sugar? White Castle isn't sugar coated mini buns of goodness with syrup, right?

Wrong, these are all full of sugar in the form of starch in the bread or potatoes or 'gasp' rice. In fact simple carbohydrates hit your blood stream faster than table sugar! Pick up a simple blood glucose meeter and give it a try. Great fun to watch your blood sugar swing, especially if you are overweight and edging toward diabetes.

So watch Jamie Oliver's show, "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution". He will teach a lot about the missing science that makes up pseudoscience. Read the book, The End of Overeating too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Pseudoscience Activities at the Night Museum

I'm following up on the marbles of pseudoscience in our last episode.

I emailed the museum to point out that there are great ways to use the pseudoscience marbles in their after school programs. They could avoid looking like rubes for selling pseudoscience in a science museum by actually teaching pseudoscience. Sort of evens it out, right? Can't sell pseudoscience without teaching pseudoscience, right?

Think about it like J. Crew (JCG) or the Gap (GPS). They sell clothes. They don't sell dinosaur toys too. They are about putting cloth on people, not teaching science, so they have no dinosaurs. You have to pair up people and clothes to make the sale. Throw in rocks and old dino bones and people don't get it and shop at that French Target store.

Look at Republicans and the healthcare debate and healthcare reform. Republicans are totally against the healthcare bill. This seems illogical because the Democrats put a bunch of Republican ideas and took out stuff that the Republicans really hatted. The bill even ensures that insurance companies make more money by mandating insurance - making it pro big business! In other words, it is exactly what Republicans wanted. Like pseudoscience in a science museum store, the Republicans can't vote for something that the president or most Democrats appear to like (even though they really don't as you can tell because Michael Moore hates it too).

One more hint... Why haven't the Republicans submitted their own healthcare reform bill? It is obvious, it would look like the Democrat bill and the whole charade would be blown. So you see, like tutus in a Banana Republic, suddenly we have two things that are not like one another (i.e. the creator's signatures on identical bills).

So.... sigh, we were in the museum's store, right? Back to my letter from the museum. Sadly the woman that replied to me could do nothing to remove the cognitive dissonance of shoppers/patrons. That is sad. Poor powerless museum employee, forced to sell pseudoscience marbles in a science museum.... sigh.

But I had an idea. The power block in the museum is its wealthy patrons. They give the money that pays the salaries of powerless museum employees. Not sure where museum store sales go. Perhaps to the 3rd party that runs the store for the museum. Anyway, donors, that's the solution. We could approach them with ideas to teach pseudoscience in the science museum so they can sell their marbles without shame.

Maybe we can go to the museum's board meeting with the plan? Most of the board are donors. Submit a new after school pseudoscience program. All I need now is the program! Any ideas from my young pseudo-scientists?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pseudoscience at the Tar Pits

There seems to be a team os pseudoscientists out there doing great work for the cause. Today, while looking for something totally unrelated, I found that the George C. Page Museum, adjacent to the La Brea Tar Pits is selling "Metaphysical" marbles in their store.

I have been to the Tar Pits as a kid. It is a great place, full of science and history. I don't remember seeing any ghosts, witch doctors, or anything else metaphysical twirling about the last time I was there. Imagine my disappointment that I missed the magic stones are quite a surprise. Could have used them to improve my grades or learn to fly... To be honest, I feel cheated that I couldn't buy those magic marbles.

I guess I missed the boat. Sadly too, I am disappointed that these marbles were 'cut by hand'. I suspect the hand made quality by hundreds of underaged third world factory workers is where the real magic comes from. Everyone knows that child labor obviously increases their super powers.

Here is a great pic from our intrepid pseudoscientist that shows all the wonderful powers you can get from these stones (sadly not the power of flight or smiting of enemies, but ok for the price).

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Psuedoscience In The Classroom: Physics 192

Finally, pseudoscience is now taught in a university that isn't run by a major religion or cult (cult/religions are the same thing, but we will talk about that another time).

If I might, I'd like say something directly to the students.

First, I am very happy to see you taking an interest in being a pseudoscience. I think that it has been a sad story that there are few places where you can get an overview of the field. Where else can you learn about placebos, noceboes, and the best of bad science?

But there is one thing that I think is really important that is often misunderstood by those critical of the beliefs in pseudoscience. Simply the critics say that the reason people believe in things like crystal healing, chiropractic, or faith healing is because they are stupid. This is a bad characterization and ignores a lot about how and why people actually come to such conclusions and why their beliefs are usually unassailable.

Pseudoscience is all brain related. Look closely and you will see that the reason we believe in so many crazy things is not because of a lack of intelligence, but rather just how the brain reacts as it has been trained by society and the many coping skills that have evolved over time to keep us safe and happy in general.

The simplest of these is that the brain does not like to expend too much energy. Think about how you pick a restaurant. Do you observe the kitchen staff for a couple of hours before you decide to eat at an establishment? No, you rely on the report by a friend or simply that the restaurant appears to be popular. In other words, the brain is pre-wired to follow the crowd.

The 2012 phenomenon is another of these. It is not popular because it is real, just that it is popular. People tend to believe what other people believe.

Why are these beliefs so hard to break? Back to the brain. The brain hates to be wrong. Being wrong is like telling the brain it needs to learn something new and it now needs to go through the trouble of rewiring its current beliefs which takes a lot of time and energy. Back on the savanna, taking time to rewire gets in the way of gathering food and keeping an eye out for man eating lions.

Being called out as wrong is also a very huge attack in the modern world. Getting an F on a test is an attack on your ability to survive. Nobody gets hired and puts food on the table or a roof over your head when life is a series of F grades.  Any questioning of decisions or skills at work is an attack on your ability to hold the job and thus provide for you and family. It is like a pack leader being challenged for his right to sire offspring. You loose in the battle of survival and the brain does not like loosing.

Question someones opinion and you are opening a can of worms that want to attack your counter belief. The arguments of course do not need to follow any rules of logic. Logic is not a survival mechanism. The only thing you need for survival is observation, memory and a little cause/effect. The scientific method is not necessary to know that a hot stove will burn you or a bright mushroom is probably poison.

Back literally to the chiropractor. Is it wacky? Are people stupid? No, they are both sheep because a lot of other people believe, so it is a good bet that it is real, plus it may work for you because of placebo and/or getting up and going to the chiropractor hand having your body twisted a bit does affect your body a bit.  Is it a cure? Is there any other real science?  Not really.

 Can a chiropractor help you? Sure, but not for most of the reason they give. Is it dangerous? Yes, but I think you are more likely to get hurt in a car accident on the way. All medical interventions have side affects and fiddling with someones spine is not exactly guaranteed to be safe and neither is driving to their offices.

Another fun one is perpetual motion. It seems possible. The brain usually stops there. The device looks cool and a smart guy in a lab coat that invented the devices says that it is real. You don't have a lab coat, so you are willing to accept the facts as said. What about the critics?

Critics are everywhere. Recently I wrote about how critics are getting wackier now because they represent an opposing view and that reporters must present opposing views to appear fair and balanced. It is important to remember that in most cases, opposing sides never converge on the truth. Once opinion/belief is formed, it is almost impossible to change.

What about pure belief? Paranormal, religion, UFO, etc. How can you counter a belief that is unprovable? Religion is the best at being unquestionable. Ask someone who is religious about when they became aware that they were true believers. Usually it is because of some horrific or challenging  time in their lives like death of a loved one, drugs, or other challenge. When we feel bad, we look for relief and, like a drowning man, anything that will make us feel better and give us something to do rather than wallow in grief or depression.

Destruction of belief is hard. Cognitive dissonance is a state of mind where we become aware that our belief does not fit the facts. Like an end of the world cult member feels something is up when the world fails to end at the appointed time. The thing is, we hate that feeling and can come up with all manner of excuses and unrelated evidence or suppositions that can prove we are right and blow away feelings that we made a mistake. This is why there are still members of cults even after the end does not come. They have convinced themselves

Disproving a belief is easy. Convincing someone to change a belief is hard. My advice is not to attack a Don Quixote, but to teach them about how messy the mind is and how to think critically.

Finally and more importantly, be entertaining. Have fun! When being  a skeptic is fun, we all win!

Heros of Pseudoscience: Kevin Trudeau

Here at the Boys Books offices, we love heroes. We also like watching Heros, but that's because we also like good science fiction. Speaking of science fiction...

You can read about Gary at the Federal Trade Commission. It seems that the FTC didn't like Gary's book, “The Weight Loss Cure ‘They’ Don’t Want You to Know About.” Here at Boys Books, we loved the book for the same reason we love watching Heros.

The Sounds and Smells of Pseudoscience

This isn't as much about pseudoscience as it is about how we see problems. I just came across a letter that Benjamin Franklin wrote.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Battlefield Acupuncture for US Troops

Yes, we are already down the road of crazy with the title. But go to this link, just so we can both believe that this is a true thing.

Ok, so now that you believe me, let's ask some questions. First, why is this just for wounded troops? Will acupuncture work on uninjured troops? Can you relieve the pain of getting shot by sticking a needle in your earlobe? Imagine the super soldier with no armor, but a crazed pincushion hedgehog look.

Speaking of hedgehogs (the mini British equivalent of a porcupine), couldn't you just strap a couple of hedgehogs to a pair of earmuffs and cure all your ills and stop all pain? Instead of sham-wow, why not a needle-wow?

Remember that post on placeboes or even chiropractors. You will find that I like being a pin cushion. It did help me with the pain I experienced from diabetes. Of course it never cured me. The acupuncturist never divined the fact that the pain was a symptom of diabetes.

Let me qualify something. The acupuncture I had was either smack dab into a nerve or it was placed around muscles that were then shocked to cause them to rhythmically contract. This is not pseudoscience, it is really doing something to my body. It did give relief, as does massage in similar places. Did the pain stop because I had a delay in diabetes? No, just unlocked a muscle or interrupted the pain via the nerve.

So, imagine my surprise when I see that the emergency battlefield acupuncture they are using is of the ear variety. Simply the ears are mapped to the rest of the body. You can poke a pin into an ear and heal the heart, lungs, legs, etc. There are schools of thought that there are similar areas on the feet and hands that also map to the rest of the body.

The only needles I had in my hand was to reduce pain in my hand. I am all right with that, though less so now that I have controlled the diabetes and most of the pain is now gone.

Back to needles in the ear. I am unsure how this all started, but my guess is that there were folks that had chronic pain but really couldn't be running around looking like a human pin cushion. Why not put pins in the ears and the placebo effect kicks in and we get a similar result? Ipso facto, as they say, ear-based acupuncture was born.

So, let's just say that acupuncture in the ear is indeed a placebo. But if that is true, are bullets perhaps a nocebo? It makes sense. If a placebo can't cure anything that we can't imagine away, then the primary illness should be purely mental illness. We are told that bullets will hurt us, we believe they would hurt us, thus we believe we can eliminate the pain of a bullet with a placebo. Circular logic is fun!

I really don't believe all this bunk about the pain of bullets being curable with needles in your ears. I have gone out to the woods to shoot big guns at furniture. Furniture is not sentient and not susceptible to the placebo effect. I also do not imagine that acupuncture could ever put a sleeper sofa back together after being hit by a dozen shotgun blasts and about sixty rounds of .223 slugs.

I don't want you to believe that I am against battlefield acupuncture. This is far from the truthiness of the underlying issues because placeboes do in fact work. That is why we have the placebo effect, duh! The only issue I have is that you need to do an intelligence or rather a gullibility test prior to treatment.  This  is not always going to be easy. The patient must also be couscous so that they believe they are being helped.

Imagine waking up in a field hospital with a hole in your chest and twenty needles in your ears!

So you see, I am all for soldiers as pincushions. We must be careful of how we do this and be ready with real painkillers the moment they figure out this is pseudoscience.

Here is a quote to give you an idea about the placebo effect : "Acupuncture doesn't work for all of her patients; however. About 15 percent do not respond to acupuncture, Major Simpson said..." As you can see, at least 85% of our military has a good imagination.

One last thought. Will putting pressure on a bleeding wound stop blood loss better when the patient is awake? Is this acupuncture's nephew, acupressure? Inquiring pseudoscientists want to know!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Thousands of skeptics dead from taking homeopathic overdose (Updated)

Well, nobody actually died. The only injury I expect was a few diabetics that forgot about the sugar in the homeopathic preparations that may have had a bit of a problem. A few too may have gotten drunk because other homeopathic recipes contain alcohol. There are many news articles on the event. Here is a good one.

I would not recommend this sort of thing to anyone trying to prove a point. There is some nasty stuff in homeopathic drugs. Worse, there is little regulation to ensure that they are safe. The only thing you should count on is that there should be little or no trace of what homeopathic cures claim to contain.

I found this all an interesting stunt. I am sure they did their homework. The question I have... Where was Oprah? Or Fox news? You would think either of these great entertainment icons would be on hand to see thousands die via a misinformed mass accidental suicide of skeptics.

Another missing face is the folks at from Zicam. You would think they would have sponsored the event. It turned out to be great press because it proved homeopathy is perfectly safe. Ineffective, but safe.

If you attended the event. please comment below. I'd like to see further reports from anyone that attended the event. For instance, did anyone get a nocebo effect and actually die or get sick because they believed they were overdosing? It is one thing to say you are a skeptic and another to have a skeptical subconscious.

UPDATE: According to the Society of Homeopaths, the only time their homeopathic medications work is if the patient has symptoms that the medicine is supposed to fix. So, I guess the only time you can overdose on homeopathic medicine is if you are sick. Guess that the skeptics are going to need to get the flu before they can have a proper mass suicide in protest of fake cures.

The society also says that the stunt is "in very poor taste".  We can only assume that homeopathic medicine is a very bitter pill.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Any Sufficiently Advanced Science is Pseudoscience

You see it everyday. It is the strongest of arguments. Debaters win every time. What is it? It is simple unashamed denial of logic.

Look at the global warning debate. A graph of CO2 as compared to the average global temperature, the world seems to be warming in lock step with CO2.

The first theories are that CO2, because of its ability to trap more heat as it builds in the atmosphere, it means that the world should indeed warm. End of the argument right?

Ok, here is a little science. CO2, although can cause warming, does not cause a lot of warming. Or at least that is one side of the argument. I can't find much evidence to it being global warmer or a dud.

Back to the data. The data has a correlation between average global temp and CO2. Add in other factors like the Sun and other factors and you still see just a correlation to CO2. So, does it matter that CO2 is a greenhouse gas? Not really, because it seems that CO2 makes the world warmer according to the data. How it does it at the specific rate is good science, but rather immaterial to an attempt to reduce atmospheric CO2.

Ok, boring stuff eh? Now the fun part. The facts are easily poked full of holes. Because you can't directly prove CO2 is a greenhouse gas at the current rate of global warming with  repeatable experiments to prove the data, then the global warming must be caused other causes than CO2.

Because we don't know the exact reason, we can say that any other change can cause the same rate of warming. Look at a few things that might also cause global warming at a similar rate to CO2:
1) Growth of lawyers
2) Consumption of dairy products
3) Farming
4) Incidence of nose picking

All of these have grown over time and could, by mathematical gymnastics, be said to cause global warming. Each has grown at a regular pace since the industrial revolution.

Can you disprove that any of these things has no impact on global warming? Of course the rates are not going to exactly follow the world's warming, but that seems a little picky. They grew and the world got hot. Some things we can't explain completely. Life is a mystery and that is no reason for me not to drive an SUV.

Feel better now? Wild speculation makes the science seem like pseudoscience. Of course if the anti-global warmers could argue and examine evidence logically, we would have little room for disagreement. Simply there is no fair argument because one side gets to make up the rules. That is cool and the pseudoscientist's greatest tools.

You don't need to be irrational to win an argument. Just be creative. Dismiss any argument with the fact that there is no 100% proof or undeniable evidence. There is always a margin for error (or margarine if you are buttering them up).

For extra credit, what logical fallacies am I employing? First person to write the correct answer in the comments gets a free copy of the book!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pseudoscience of Technology Reporting

Take a look at this article:Innovation: What use is a smartbook? - tech - 08 January 2010 - New Scientist This is a great example of Pseudoscience of Technology Reporting. Look for the emotion, opinions, and generalizations. Not to mention the fact that the reporter claimed Las Vegas was in Arizona and not Nevada. Yikes! There is a lesson here.

Good Pseudoscience reporting is useful for slamming things you don't like. The reporter is obviously a poor Luddite. Sadly though, the mistake about geography released the hounds of critics. Read the comments, it is like they let sharks comment on New Scientist!

The other issue with this article is that the reporter is shameless. You need to be sneaky with opinion and make it look science-ish. The key would have been to stalk other people in these booths looking at these eBooks. Just ask each one if they liked these fancy electronic toys. If they have a smirk and a negative reaction (and you are sure your deodorant is up to snuff) then jump into an interview and wait for a juicy negative quote that suits your hidden agenda. If they have a positive reaction, well, no reason to bother your readers.

Pseudoscience is not a walk in the park. You need to work at it to avoid looking like a punter that is pretending to be a reporter. Study hard and read every thing that MacGregor writes as this is exactly the wrong sort of stuff.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pseudopolls for Pseudoscience

Polls are cool! Skepchick has a great post on polls that got me thinking about how to use polls for pseudoscience.

Here are a few types of pseudopolls:

1) Only poll people you agree with
2) Misquoted polls that leave out people you disagree with
3) Completely made up polls (i.e. fraud)
4) Polls on your site or tv, radio station
5) Quote only polls that somehow agree with you
6) Polls quoted out of context
7) Polls that can be tampered with to overly support a conclusion
8) Ask leading or confusing questions that guarantee your expected results

Sometimes you can combine pseudopoll types. Like Fox News does. They no longer use national randomized polling. They poll their far right audience. They get 1,4,5 and 6 all in one shot. They are polling people that love anything Fox News says (1), they are non-random because this is on their far right site for their cable programs, and they quote out of context by saying that 'americans' voted some issue when it is really Fox News far right extremist viewers voted(6).

Funny thing is that they also goof and make up stuff about what the polls means they are creating effectively a made up poll (3) or they don't address data that disagrees with their far right conclusions (2).

Fox News polls are also easily swayed. There is no scientific method or tamper proof system. Simply some wacko viewer can vote 10,000 times with a bit of imagination and some Javascript.

The pseudoscientist should take every advantage of these pseudopolls. Imagine a site about aliens and the kinds of polls you could use to support that people need little charms to prevent alien abduction and probing. Or a homeopath drug site that polls customers for results. It is so easy.

And don't forget that if you don't like the numbers, just change them!

There is also how you ask a question(8). For example: Would you like your health questioned by a death panel? Who wouldn't say no!

As always, our friends at Fox are doing a bang up job. Head out to this LINK to see how the masters of misdirection do it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pseudoscience 101: Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994

The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) is a goldmine for anyone that wants to create a drug and call it a vitamin, mineral, or other harmlessly looking pill, powder, or liquid.

Misinformation is a hallmark of pseudoscience. The success of hokum is directly proportional to the inflation of your claims. DSHEA basically lets you say just about anything about a supplement. Of course, there are rules. You can't say specific things on the label. You might not even say specific things on your web site. But you can get thousands of your followers to say things about your supplements and what they can do. We have a word for that: Antidotal. There is also another word you might use if it is all a scam: Lies.

The key to all of this is the basis of your claims. Basically you don't need any claims. Just have a good brand name, an ingredient list, and maybe a recommended dosage. There is no reason to say what the ingredients do, that is done on Oprah.

I mentioned branding and that's important. Words like health, cleansing, energy, slimming, and other non-scientific loosey goosey words are perfect. For example: Energy Blend! Great label. Contents could be seaweed or why not a scientific name and a little history of its 'traditional' uses back in ancient times before the scientific method.

I have to cut this article short. I'm going to buy a grinder, some empty capsules, and some seaweed for sushi rolls at the local asian supermarket.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fair and Balanced Pseudoscience

Why is there so much pseudoscience? One reason might be journalism and debate. Journalism often takes the approach that there are always at least two sides to a story. If someone believes in one thing, there must be someone that disagrees. Each opinion is then explored and the reader is allowed to make a decision.

I was clued into these ideas in part by an excellent paper out at the Discovery Channel web site. I take a slightly different approach had similar concepts. The pseudoscientist needs to use the right research, just not always the right way.

This balanced coverage of an issue is in part meant to reduce the bias of the reporter. This is partially because we might assume that the reported is stupid. There may be some stupid reporters, but actually this is fairly smart. Reporters get paid based on their popularity. The more readers you have, the bigger your income. By showing one or more sides to an issue, the reporter gets readers from both sides.

Balanced coverage also creates content. The other thing reporters get paid for is words. The more words, the better the pay. By having two sides, you get double or more the content. Not only do you get both sides of an issue, but you get extra bonus content from arguments about why the opposing point of view is wrong.

Last but not least is that people arguing is entertaining. You get tension in the writing from the arguments. There is also a lot of creative writing, especially from the pseudoscience side of the fence. Think about it, you get mystics, fantasy, and creative stuff pulled out of the air all the time.

The good news for the pseudoscientist is that as long as there is a scientist to argue with, you can push just about any idea. The only thing you need to do is find someone that disagrees with you.

There are ways you can push pseudoscience without critics, for example Oprah or uTube, but it is usually required to have some type of critic for the traditional media. The reason you want traditional media of course is to get on Oprah or to increase your hit count on uTube.

What if you don't have critics? The simplest is to just find a generic critic. Just look for anyone who labels themselves as a 'skeptic'. Skeptics are rather nondenominational and will argue against anything that does not have a 100 years of scientific inquiry and repeatable experiments.

To utilize a skeptic, start commenting on their blogs and articles. Just contradict them and throw in your idea. The formula to success is to deny whatever they are talking about and then push whatever your pseudoscience idea is and say they probably don't believe in that either. It also helps to call them by a bad name, question parentage, and especially call them close minded. They will usually reply and give the alternative skeptical opinion on your idea.
Once you have a comment from a skeptic, use it. This is especially useful when you can use some part of what they said out of context. For example, if they call you a bad name, just quote that. Makes them look mean and bitter about your success. It is even ok to quote their explanation as to why you are wrong as long as you creatively destroy their argument (please see the earlier post on The Language of Pseudoscience and the sister blog's Ending an Argument.

Looking for examples of balanced reporting? Just google vaccinations, politics, abortion, creationism, or just think about any subject where the discourse includes calling the other guy names or questions parentage.

So, have you been wallowing in self pity because your wacky idea about unicorns curing cancer? Now you have the way forward. Success in pseudoscience isn't about proving you are right, it is about being the other voice in an argument.