Happy New Year! Now who are you again?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with family and friends lately, something I don’t often get the chance to do. And while I’m not happy about the reason for it, I’m still thankful for all the friends I sometimes forget I have.

One thing I found out from many of my friends is that if I post a piece on my facebook page, they’ll read it. But they won’t necessarily come here to read my other stuff. Why not?

The ongoing discussion here in the blogosphere sometimes needs an interruption, a break to remember what it is we do here, if anything. I’m not big on “Top 10″ or other similar New Years posts, so for 2009, I’m going to explain to you who the hell I am, what my writing is about, and why you really should read it. Really.

First of all, blog reading 101. Blogs, a shortening of “weblog”, is an online writing form existing somewhere in the space between self-absorbed adolescent diary and journalism. Blogs themselves have certain conventions that print media don’t. For example, when reading a blog post, and encountering a link, this link often leads to another blog or article that expands on the underlined idea, without having to make a major digression. Blogs can also be read in rss feeds, which is an easy format for glancing through your favorite writers.

Anyway…

The Hoofnagle brothers (those handsome lads pictured at the left) started the denialism blog quite a while ago because they saw a pattern. Certain issues in science and the news seemed to attract a certain type of wacko. For example, there is a large and somewhat influential community that denies that HIV causes AIDS. This pissed them off. What the Hoofnagles recognized is that this “denialism” may infect many issues (AIDS, global warming, the Holocaust, evolution, to name a few), but the tactics, the logical errors, remain the same. People who deny the Holocaust happened use the same tactics as those who claim AIDS is something other than HIV infection. Those of us who follow these (very harmful and often hateful) movements have noticed how the people involved use certain tactics over and over to try to show the public how “reasonable” they are.

The study of denialism roots out these tactics, reveals these patterns, and shows these folks to be what they really are—charlatans, hate-mongers, corporate shills, and sometimes just poor, deluded souls.

I started writing myself almost two years ago at a blog I called White Coat Underground. I didn’t have a plan so much as to just write about whatever interested me. Apparently my writing interested others as well, because the readership grew.

Much of my writing was going to be about interesting cases, medical anecdotes, and other “underground” views from the health care system. But I kept running into various kinds of quacks who—while I was working hard at providing my patients with compassionate science-based medicine—who abandoned science, ethics, and humility in favor of charismatic—almost cult-like—medical practices that resembled preaching more than science. These practices included all sorts of so-called alternative medicine, such as homeopathy, reiki, and chiropractic, and share a few things in common: they are profitable, they are attractive, and they are wrong. But what the Hoofnagles and I noticed, as we read each others’ writing, was that these charlatans used many of the same rhetorical tactics as other denialists. Scratch an alternative medicine guru, and underneath, as likely as not, you’ll find an HIV denialist, or an anti-vaccinationist. The denialist errors in thinking are pervasive, and if you can rationalize one illogical belief, you can buy them all.

One example of this was Gary Null, a guy who really bugged me. He promoted all sorts of (profitable) “alternatives” to real medicine, without any evidence of their ability to help people other than vague, anonymous patient testimonials. It shouldn’t have surprised me at all when this guy, who has no formal medical training, crossed the line from promoter of fake cures, to HIV denialist. He has now begun aggressively promoting the idea that HIV does not cause AIDS, an idea that kills.

It would be nice if we could just say, “oh, so there are some wackos out there…big deal,” but we can’t. Gary Null, for example, gets lots of air time on public radio and television during pledge season. He is perceived as mainstream, despite is bizarre and dangerous views. He’s one of those “gateway denialists”; once you start to think the idea is reasonable, you can end up killing people by the tens of thousands. This “denialist thing” isn’t just some exercise in logic and rhetoric. It has real world consequences.

So, last March, the Hoofnagles invited me to write over here at denialism blog. I jumped at the chance. The readership here is great, the exposure is great, the community is great (and contentious). Since it was their digs, I asked what I could write, and Mark said, “anything”. So I basically closed shop at the old blog and started writing here. And while I still write many pieces on medical quackery, denialism, etc., I also like to go back to the medical underground, opening the door on the intimacy of the doctor-patient relationship, the ins and outs of the health care system, and some “hard” science pieces about disease and health.

For many of my friends, though, it’s the personal, the tragic, the celebratory which they read the most. I try to remember to categorize these popular posts under “medical musings”. People will and should read what they want, but I’m using this as an opportunity to invite those of you who have been avoiding some of the writing here to give it another try. If we use too much jargon, or our writing is otherwise unclear, leave questions and comments. Our system allows you be be anonymous if you wish. While I’d love to know who is commenting, it isn’t necessary. Just leave the name and email sections blank, and type away.

So, welcome to 2009, and welcome to denialism blog. Come in and stay a while.

Comments

  1. #1 Glendon Mellow
    January 1, 2009

    This blog is always educational and the writing is terrific. Thanks for bearing a standard on so many important issues!

    All the best to all of you and your families in 2009!

  2. #2 Comrade PhysioProf
    January 1, 2009

    Happy New Year, dude!

  3. #3 The Perky Skeptic
    January 1, 2009

    I really, really love this blog. I loved it back when the Hoofnagles were just starting to post the Denialist’s Deck, and I ultra-loved it when they added PalMD to their lineup, ’cause I was already reading him on White Coat Underground! The blogosphere is a small world sometimes. I wish all of you and yours a GREAT 2009, and THANKS for all the great reading, you guys! :) :) :)

  4. #4 DuWayne
    January 1, 2009

    I find the whole intersection of live friends and blogs rather interesting. My friends and family will happily spend hours on the road to see me sing or speak. They will spend immense amounts of time helping me with a project or driving to see a particularly cool exterior job I’ve done. But very few of them have any interest in taking a few minutes to load and read what I write online. As I have been coming to notice, this seems a very common theme.

    I find it even more amusing with my dad and my brother Ed over at Dispatches. Our dad will listen with great anticipation to Ed’s new radio show. He has driven all over the state to see him speak, whenever he’s around to do so and it’s an open venue. But he has never looked at Ed’s blog, even though he’s rather interested in what he writes about (as shown by his regularly asking me what Ed’s writing about).

    In any case, I am glad you choose to blog. Not that I don’t enjoy the occasional Hoofnagle posts, but I really enjoy yours. I have a great many challenges to deal with in this new year and I am looking forward to occasional breaks to read you and a few other bloggers I particularly enjoy.

    Thanks for taking the time……

  5. #5 Arikia
    January 2, 2009

    This post was a great idea and I really enjoyed it. It’s nice to learn about scibling roots.

  6. #6 minimalist
    January 2, 2009

    As for me, I am a postdoc at the NIH, formerly (as of some years back, anyway) a grad student at UVA. I have of late been enjoying a quite successful run at the bench, enough to submit my work to top-tier journals. I’m very happy at the moment — it’s exciting work, in its way, and has intriguing implications for several subfields — yet I don’t like the ups and downs of research. I’ve had too many long, long stretches of dead ends and false starts to want to take up a new project in another institution. So when my contract at the NIH expires, I’ll probably be seeking an alternative career: writing, editing, or perhaps even science policy.

    I heard about the original Give Up Blog through some mutual friends from UVA. I was meeting up with them at the 2005 ASCB meeting, where I discovered that the Disco Toot’s own Jonathan Wells was presenting a poster! We checked it out, had a good laugh, and the good Rev. Dr. and a few others were able to confront Wells directly (my poster was scheduled for the same time, and Wells was nowhere to be found either before or after the precise minutes he was supposed to be at his poster — typical).

    Anyway, full story, with pictures of the hilarious mess that was his poster, can be found here. One wonders how the super-advanced ID research program has progressed since then. Obviously the results must be explosive and he wants to keep them close to his chest, because he has not been seen at any scientific meeting since then. We all had a cracking good time, and I became a faithful reader of the Hoofnagles’ subsequent blogadventures.

  7. #7 minimalist
    January 2, 2009

    Oops, that was Another Anonymous Poster who confronted Wells, not Rev. Dr.

    I know who the real-life people are behind those handles but I get the handles mixed up often. Sorry.

  8. #8 Jose
    January 2, 2009

    I strongly reccomend examining Scientology’s sales tactics. They seem to have set the standard for selling alternative medicine products/services/paradigms. I notice that one of the UK’s leading homeopathic gurus and publisher of “What Doctor’s Don’t Tell You” has done the full Hubbard in her “Living the Field” system (ie give me 200 quid a month). If you look at the marketing language used in her website and compare it to that used by the Church of Scientology you’ll find little difference (there are loads of other similiarities as well).

    Unfortunately in order for these kinds of sales pitches to work Science needs to be delegitamtized in the eyes of those being fleeced. I know someobody who is a follower of Mctaggart and she’s become extremely hostile to Science and people who accept Scientific paradigms as a result of it. Unfortunately I don’t know what can be done, she’s long past the point of being persuadable by rational argument.

    I hope bloggers like you can expose this kind of claptrat for what it is. Unfortunately I don’t think speaking in generalities is going to be enough all on it’s own. I think some of these gurus/movements need to be publicly named and shamed to limit their ability to hoodwink others.

  9. #9 george.w
    January 2, 2009

    I love reading this blog. It gives me an outlet for the angst that built up years ago when I built a website for a chiropractor. The further I got into creating the site, the more I thought; “This is complete garbage!” But I had agreed to finish the site. The chiropractor is still in business; he drives a Jag and owns an airplane.

    I have noticed some people have a strange resistance to reading blogs. And though academic blogs have many uses, I work at explaining to department heads why their newsletter printed on dead trees and mailed out, could get more results as an interactive web tool like a blog. It is slow work.

  10. #10 Gary
    January 3, 2009

    Over the years I too have noticed how a believer in one type of irrationality is also likely to believe in others. I like to call all of this stuff WOO. I think the term fits nicely.

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