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.