From the sublime to the ridiculous

Recently, I discussed a story by the BBC news show Panorama about the Church of Scientology and its ridiculous anti-psychiatry museum. Unfortunately, the show doesn’t always do things right. Over at Bad Science, I find how badly Panorama messed up a story on Wi-Fi, claiming health dangers on the basis of bad science and interviews with activists that sell shielded netting and hats that supposedly protect the user from microwaves and radio waves.

This definitely looks like a case of going from the sublime to the ridiculous.


  1. #1 Richard Carter, FCD
    May 27, 2007

    Agree wholeheartedly. Panorama has been the BBC’s flagship news/documentary programme for decades. It’s usually top-quality stuff. I can’t imagine what possessed them to do their silly scare-story about wi-fi – other than its being a guaranteed ratings booster.

  2. #2 coturnix
    May 27, 2007

    Are the hats they sell made of tin-foil?

  3. #3 Lucas McCarty
    May 27, 2007

    In the last few years the BBC has been severely dumbing down and chasing ratings, generally appealing the lowest common denominator. Now they have cut Panorama down to just 30 minutes when it was previously between 1 and 2 hour depending on the subject matter. The usual lame excuse is trotted out that modern viewers want something that doesn’t stretch their attention-span. Meanwhile at the cinema, more and more films are being released that push the two and a half hour mark and earn hundreds of millions, how do they explain that? Reality TV trash also tends to go on for hours and hours.

    Current affairs and documentaries are popular when they go on forever; if the subject matter wasn’t that interesting in the first place, the programme wouldn’t be watched at all regardless of how long or short it is.

  4. #4 Jay
    May 28, 2007

    If pseudoscience interests you, try pointing your attention toward psychiatry, especially the area of the drugs they prescribe in ridiculous quantities to children around the world. The money links between big pharma, the FDA, and the psychiatrists who prescribe these drugs are evident if you look for them. Or if that’s too hot a subject, try inspecting the process of how they put all those mental illnesses into the DSM IV so they can bill for them.

    It’s pseudoscience, from start to finish.

  5. #5 Mike Kelly
    May 28, 2007

    Interesting. Have you or any family member suffered from a psychiatric disorder? Perhaps you’ve not noticed any improvment after drug treatment?


  6. #6 Orac
    May 28, 2007

    Methnks I’ve had my first Scientologist show up.

  7. #7 Justin Moretti
    May 28, 2007

    try inspecting the process of how they put all those mental illnesses into the DSM IV so they can bill for them

    What’s your understanding of the DSM-IV? Because it certainly isn’t what you’re making it out to be here. DSM-IV is a compendium of diagnostic categories and has nothing to do with billing. Billing is on a fee for service basis, and is not connected directly to the diagnosis.

    Would you like to describe (in numerical terms) the ridiculous quantities of drugs given? The number or proportion of children treated, and the gender and age balance? In what countries they are located, and how prescribing practices vary from nation to nation? The manner in which your statistics were collected? The ethical approvals process you went through to gather and present the data?

    Seeing as these links are so evident, would you care to detail a few of them here?

    Strong claims demand strong proof. The ball is in your court.

  8. #8 Katrina
    May 28, 2007

    Look out, Orac! You do have your first scientologist. What fun you’ll have now.

  9. #9 DuWayne
    May 28, 2007

    Justin Moretti –

    While I think the anti-psychiatry rant of Jay is way too extreme, ask most any teacher and they will happily tell you that way too many kids are getting put on either Ritalin or Adderall. I don’t think this is the fault of psychiatry as a profession, it is the fault of parents who don’t want to be bothered with disciplining their kids and schools that get extra funds for every medicated student.

    I am not anti-psych drugs. The problem (at least in the U.S.) is that way too many people, kids and adults, are medicated as the only aspect of their treatment. Again, this is not the fault of the psychiatric profession. Many of us can only get medication, insurance and/or state funds will only provide as much. The problem is that for most people, the only way to move toward serious treatment of mental health issues, is to also get therapy. Drugs are not only helpful, but often times an essential factor in dealing with therapy. When a person is trying to dig through the root causes of mental problems, drugs help to keep the patient from spiraling – i.e. they help the patient look at the root causes objectively, instead of getting that much worse, the closer they get to the causes of their problems.

    But just taking the drugs to maintain functionality, will never actually solve the problems. Too, people often become immunized to the effects of the particular drug/s they are on and have to get switched to new drugs, a process that can be extremely difficult – in some cases debilitating. Not to mention that the drugs themselves can impair function.

    This is also not to say that no one should be on drugs as a permanent factor in treatment. Schizophrenia and other associative disorders, lend themselves to requiring medication for maintenance. But for the most part, people would not need to spend their lives on medication if they were also getting counseling. Especially if they were getting counseling geared toward teaching them to function within the parameters of their illness.

    That said, I’m guessing Jay is a Scientologist. Which is intriguing, as I have recently had an interesting run in with proselytizing Scientologists here in Portland. The thing I found most interesting, is that they, unlike the many other religion sales folk, ignore the hordes of beggars and obviously poor folk that are a huge presence downtown.

  10. #10 sophia8
    May 28, 2007

    The thing I found most interesting, is that they, unlike the many other religion sales folk, ignore the hordes of beggars and obviously poor folk that are a huge presence downtown.
    That’s because the beggars can’t afford the Scientology courses.

  11. #11 Russ
    May 28, 2007

    All drugs have side effects, but the vast majority of the newer psychiatric drugs’ benefits outweigh their risks overall. It is true that sometimes you have to try a number of meds (or combination thereof) to find what works best for an individual. Meds alone are very rarely optimum treatment (an exception could be made for ADHD without an associated mood or anxiety disorder). However, for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder and bipolar disorders, medication is almost universally required for optimum treatment.

    Jay, if you want to spam a message board with b.s., I suggest you stick with your fellow idiot clams at A.R.S.

  12. #12 flawedplan
    May 28, 2007

    Heavens no, most critical psychiatry blogs are not associated with scientology, most are run by clinicians, scientists, patients, researchers and pharma reps.

    I’m a frequent reader of respectful insolence and hope this isn’t seen as trolling, just tossing a few items into the discussion:

    Clinical Psychiatry and Psychology; a Closer Look:

    Furious Seasons, patient blog:

    Scientific Misconduct:

    And from Alliance for Human Research Protection re: SiCKO

    Here’s what a board certified specialist in internal medicine, wrote about psychiatry’s practices: “When you look below the surface at the specialty of psychiatry what you uncover is so ludicrous it is difficult to believe that it is really true. Prominent psychiatrists from all over the world gather annually for a meeting at which new diseases are invented. There are no objective findings that establish the diagnosis of these diseases. These new diseases are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Diseases. Potential new diseases are discussed at these meetings and new diseases are voted in or out by a show of hands.”

    I recommend the work of feminist psychologist Paula Caplan for a look at the underpinnings of the DSM; she was on the committee and wrote a scathing expose:

    They Say You’re Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal


    Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis (first editor, also wrote or co-wrote many of its chapters)

    Her site, explains problems with psychiatric nosology and calls for congressional hearings into psychiatric diagnosis.

    So many links here, hope this doesn’t end up in the Spam folder, just felt duty calling.

    Thanks for the opportunity.

  13. #13 Ginger Yellow
    May 29, 2007

    Crossposted from Bad Science:

    Horizon is almost as bad as Panorama these days, although at least they don’t actually make up “science”. When they’re not putting out some ridiculous sciencey programme on cosmetics or “the battle of the brains”, they bury the real science in piles of sensationalist guff. The recent show on the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson didn’t even mention the Higgs particle until ten minutes before the end. What they did prominently flag at the start of the show, however, is the possibility that the LHC could (hopefully will) produce mini-black holes. Naturally they didn’t discuss the implications for supersymmetry, but rather said “The LHC might destroy the earth!” It wasn’t until 40 minutes into the programme that they brought out the scientists to say: “Don’t be ridiculous. Even if these black holes, which would be infinitessimally small, are generated, they will decay through Hawking radiation in a tiny fraction of a second.” And frankly that wasn’t even the worst thing about the programme. They made Brian Cox look like a cheap mime artist.

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