Scooped! Sciency debunkery and other pseudoskeptical topics


I’ve believed for a while that self-described “skeptics” are not really “skeptical”:http://www.webster.com/dictionary/skepticism. See also “doubt”:http://www.webster.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?sourceid=Mozilla-search&va=doubt, especially the noun form:

1 a : uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-making b : a deliberate suspension of judgment

Unsurprisingly, I’ve found some similar opinions on the ‘net:

I’ve ranted before about the logical errors make in this brand of skepticism, which I now call pseudosketpicism, especially in the area of alternative medicine. And let’s check some of the views on these sites I linked to …

(On James Randi’s comments about Penta water) Randi could not be more wrong. Water is not simply “water- burned hydrogen, no more no less”. It is a highly anomalous substance, and its fundamental properties are still the subject of basic research.

and the following

The existence of scientific evidence for water clusters does of course
not imply that “Penta” and similar products have any merit, but it does
caution against outright
dismissal of these kinds of product. Randi’s sweeping negative
statements betray lack of knowledge on the subject and qualify
him as a blundering pseudo-scientist. His petty, adolescent criticism
of a simple typographic inaccuracy on the “Hydrate for Life” web site
and his use of ridicule (he asserts that “Penta” is
“magically-prepared” and works “miraculously” while the manufacturer
simply states that the process is “proprietary”) support that
impression.
And yet, Randi rhetorically assumes an air of scientific authority,
even infallibility.

Exactly. The opposite of (pseudo)skepticism is not credulity, but an open mind. And pseudoskepticism, such as that found in Randi’s missive, is not an honest skepticism (a suspension of judgment) but rather a judgment against a particular assertion, without any support for the counterclaims whatsoever.

I find this particular section interesting because it makes the Avogadro’s number argument against homeopathy not so watertight. Again, who knows how the science will play out, but claiming that homeopathy effectiveness is physically impossible because of the Avogadro’s number argument is to assume scientific closure to something that is not scientifically closed. (And whether homeopathy’s mechanism of action can be explained from this line of reasoning still has yet to be explored, or at least discovered by this blogger.)

So HA HA do I believe that UFO(Unidentified Flying Object)s exist? I don’t know. I have suspended judgment on the matter. Maybe duck farts or whatever can explain all the sightings to date, or maybe Zarvox really is investigating our planet so his friend The Blob can pay a visit and scare the bejesus out of all of us. Right now it really isn’t affecting my life to make a judgment on the matter.

Right now what is affecting my life in a direct fashion is this issue of the efficacy of medicine. Certain proponents of the so-called “evidence-based medicine” would like to sue practitioners of alternative medicine and force them to give up their voices. And some are doing just that. And losing. I’m squarely opposed to Highlander-type medicine (“There can be only one.”)

So that makes me an altie, right? Not quite. I work pretty hard helping people bring so-called “allopathic remedies” (i.e. pharmaceuticals) to market, and I believe in the work as long as its ethical and done with sound science. People’s bodies work differently, and I believe that more choices are better than fewer, whether those choices are green tea or Gleevec.

In some cases, I feel pretty strongly that pseudoskepticism is a serious disservice. I’m coming to this exact conclusion about the “Quackwatch” series of websites, and other efforts by Stephen Barrett and the NCAHF. As it turns out, Barrett has admitted, under oath, to failing the Medical Board certification exam in psychiatry, and, therefore, his qualifications as an “expert” are, at best, in serious doubt. His caustic attacks of all alternative medicine make his bias clear, and make his accusations of quackery ring hollow. His litigious nature and conflicts of interest as an “expert witness” (when the qualifications for such are lacking) really make me doubt his intentions as a consumer advocate and, quite frankly, throw the information on the quack/chiro/naturo/homeo/whateverelse-watch sites in doubt. I don’t doubt that he’s built up a case against a bunch of quacks, but I’d recommend corroborating any information found on these sites with a more trustworthy source of information before using them to make healthcare decisions.

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2 Responses

  1. Huzzah! Healthy skepticism certainly requires some rational basis for a course of action, but the inability to prove a treatment’s efficacy beyond all reasonable doubt should not cut off further exploration of the issue. Sometimes the plural of anecdote can be data.

  2. I find it fascinating that certain scientists and skeptics close the door on certain issues such as the possible connections of mercury and autism (or autism-like symptoms) when basic scientific ideas such as gravity are “not as closed”:http://www.universetoday.com/am/publish/improved_einstein_theory.html?1322006.

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