Respectful Insolence

I’ve been a critic of Arianna Huffington’s massive group blog, The Huffington Post, since three weeks after it first blighted the blogosphere. That’s when I first noticed that the “health” section (such as it is) of HuffPo had already become a wretched hive of scum and anti-vaccine quackery, something I began documenting again and again and again and again and again over five years ago, before Salon.com and Rolling Stone flushed their credibility right down the crapper with Robert F. Kennedy’s infamous conspiracy mongering about thimerosal in vaccines. Indeed, I continue to document the horrific abuse of medical science that occurs on a near daily basis on HuffPo right up until now, be it applying some not-so-Respectful Insolence to spectacular bits of anti-vaccine pseudoscience written by clueless Hollywood celebrities full of the arrogance of ignorance like Jim Carrey, Jenny McCarthy, or Bill Maher, promotion of dangerous cancer quackery, claims that homeopathy and other quackery can treat the swine flu, or the various and sundry other offenses perpetrated by HuffPo against medical science. It’s not for nothing that HuffPo has been referred to as waging a war on medical science.

Given that background, you might think I’d be happy to see a post by Alex Pareene in Salon.com castigating HuffPo. To some extent, I am. Unfortunately Pareene wasted an excellent opportunity and revealed something that’s irritated the crap out of me for quite a while. Specifically, it’s the status of medicine and, more specifically, medical quackery and how they’re viewed by too many people that I encounter. You’ll see what I mean in a minute. First, let’s take a look at Pareene’s post entitled Huffington Post publishes anti-Darwin smears from creationist think tank. I’ll start with the good.

In his post, Pareene is quite correctly lambasting a recent article by Discovery Institute flak David Klinghoffer entitled The Dark Side of Darwinism. In his HuffPo piece, Klinghoffer regurgitates a number of distortions and outright lies favored by the “intelligent design” creationism movement about Darwin, specifically the myth that “Darwinism” leads straight to Hitler; i.e., that Hitler and his followers began the Nazi eugenics program and conceived the Holocaust because they believed so fervently in Darwinism that the Nazi “biomedical” vision developed to apply evolutoinary principles to the human race. Pareene is quite correct when he characterizes this as “cancerous bullshit,” citing P.Z. Myers post deconstructing said “cancerous bullshit.” I’ve done the very same thing myself many times, once even going so far as to do a Hitler Zombie parody of this sort of religion-inspired pseudoscientific rubbish that the drones at the Discovery Institute like to produce. Bully for Alex for that.

But, why, oh, why did Alex have to ruin everything? Why, oh, why, did he have to include this passage:

But publishing the new agey holistic naturopath crystal-healing Beverly Hills quack-to-the-stars bullshit of Arianna’s good friend’s nutritionist is one (stupid, potentially dangerous) thing. Giving a platform to the anti-science creationist dingbats at The Discovery Institute is a step in a darker direction.

What’s “darker” than promoting anti-vaccine quackery that can kill children? I mean, seriously. I’m on board with evolution as much as pretty much any blogger here. True, I don’t write about it nearly as much as I used to. That’s partially because I’ve become more interested in quackery and partially because there are so many other excellent bloggers on ScienceBlogs who can do it so much better than I can. Even so, I do try from time to time to counter the creationist lie that evolution is useless when it comes to understanding medical science. This is a line of propaganda particularly favored by everyone’s not-so-favorite creationist neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor, so much so that time and time again I’ve slunk away in shame at the nonsense that a fellow surgeon lays down on a regular basis as a fellow hack for the Discovery Institute with Klinghoffer. I’ve even castigated Egnor for repeating the same “Darwin leads to Hitler” lie. But Pareene just revealed his agenda by dismissively referring to promoting life-threatening quackery as just being bad while promoting lies about Darwin leading directly to Hitler as some sort of monstrosity that goes far beyond mere medical quackery. Letting quacks peddle medical antiscience is merely “insulting,” while giving space to the promotion of creationism is “beyond the pale”:

Giving a space to quacks to sell vitamin supplements to morons is insulting enough, but actually allowing a shameless asshole like Klinghoffer to use the Holocaust to promote his right-wing crusade to teach children lies is beyond the pale. Platform or no, there’s no reason for anyone rational or even anyone with a sense of shame to continue giving Huffington free content.

Why didn’t Pareene conclude that there’s no reason for anyone rational or with a sense of shame to continue giving HuffPo free content before he saw that HuffPo had allowed a creationist to post a Hitler Zombie-worthy abuse of argumentum ad Nazi-um on HuffPo? To him, apparently, it’s all just “selling vitamin supplements to morons.” Well, I have a message for Pareene: He’s a moron himself if that’s really all he thinks it is that HuffPo is doing when it promotes medical pseudoscience. As I’ve pointed out time and time again, HuffPo does far more than that. It is one of the most persistent and influential voices promoting anti-vaccine pseudoscience and the myth that vaccines cause autism. Remember, this is a blog that gives voice to many of the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement and is home to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the most misbegotten misguided “environmentalist” I’ve seen. This is a problem that has led to pockets of decreasing vaccine uptake rates, particularly in the affluent, hypereducated, cozy white middle class enclaves where HuffPo readers tend to dwell. So full of virulent, flamingly stupid antiscientific idiocy were many of HuffPo’s posts about H1N1, for example, that I truly fear what effect HuffPo could have had if we hadn’t been so fortunate and the H1N1 pandemic had been much worse.

To me, that‘s some real evil.

I find Pareene’s attitude particularly puzzling given that he spents a significant chunk of his post pointing out how he’s castigated HuffPo for its promotion of quackery and pseudoscience. It almost sounded as though he realized that this sort of pseudoscience is one where there is a direct and immmediate effect on people. In fact, people die. People waste their life’s savings chasing fairy dust and then dying anyway. Worse, some forms of quackery don’t just affect those who indulge in them. Anti-vaccine quackery, for instance, endangers even vaccinated children by eroding herd immunity. We could easily see the resurgence of deadly vaccine-preventable diseases again, thanks to the efforts of HuffPo and its ideologically like-minded fellow travelers, such as Generation Rescue.

Let’s put it this way. What is the consequence if Klinghoffer convinced some people that Darwin’s theory was a straight path to Hitler? Yes, it would be bad for science education, particularly if the Discovery Institute managed to persuade a lot of state boards of education that this sort of view should be taught in the classroom, somehow magically overcoming court challenges that would demonstrate ID to be a religious viewpoint? It would be bad for science education, that’s for sure. It might even erode the already pathetic knowledge of evolution as theoretical foundation underpinning all biology. Years from now, when the children who were victimized by a crappy education in biology and science reach adulthood and enter the workforce, we’ll have a bigger problem than we do now.

Now what would happen if the woo-meisters promoting quackery and anti-vaccine pseudoscience on HuffPo had their way? We’d see increases in the number of children suffering from vaccine-preventable infectious disease. Oh, wait. We’ve already seen that in the U.K. We’d see more deaths, suffering, and brain damage. We’d see more quacks peddling their wares and more people dying of diseases that they don’t necessarily have to die from. We’d see laws protecting and even licensing pseudoscience beyond what we have now licensing acupuncturists and chiropractors. Naturopathy and homeopathy would come to be seen as coequal with scientific medicine. We’d see brimstone coming down from the skies! Rivers and seas boiling! Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes. The dead rising from the grave! Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

Ooops. I got a little carried away in the opposite direction that Pareene did. It’s easy to do.

Look, I understand that various skeptics and supporters of science have different areas of interest and different agendas. I get it. I even pointed that out just yesterday when I made my mea culpa for not having seen the danger in corporate blogs infiltrating my home here at ScienceBlogs. We all have or blindsides. Unfortunately, as someone who’s a physician and who’s chosen medical quackery as the primary type of antiscience against which he’s making his stand, I’m continually annoyed by attitudes such as what I see in Alex Pareene’s post. That attitude is one of dismissal of quackery and anti-vaccine pseudoscience as somehow being not as important as the Big Problems like anti-evolution sentiment or belief in irrational paranormal or religion. Tut tut, the attitude seems to be, to each his own, and if some idiot wants to buy a bunch of supplements from some quack writing for HuffPo, that’s his business. Maybe so, but the existence of the quack promoting medical antiscience on HuffPo is a problem not just for promoters of science-based medicine like me.

I once got into a fairly epic “discussion” (well, argument, actually, but a friendly one) with some fellow supporters of science-based medicine about whether we should emphasize the depredations and abuses of science that come from pharma. My argument was that we should; their argument was that the anti-science inherent in quackery is a different beast that is corrupting medical science itself. I was reminded of a scene from one of my all time favorite movies, The Great Escape, in which Roger Bartlett (“Big X”) is being warned of escaping, namely that the prisoners would all be turned over to the SS if they tried their mass escape and failed. Bartlett replies.

Look, sir, you talk about the high command of the Luftwaffe, then the SS and the Gestapo. To me they’re the same. We’re fighting the bloody lot. There’s only one way to put it, sir. They are the common enemies of everyone who believes in freedom.

Creationists, quacks, science denialists of all stripes, to me they are more or less the same. They’re the common enemies of everyone who supports science. True, different forms of antiscience do have different consequences. Some are arguably relatively harmless while some, like quackery, are very harmful indeed. Even so, I find it hard to believe someone who says he supports science and opposes pseudoscience when he views the quackery and medical pseudoscience on HuffPo as merely “insulting enough” but views creationism as “darker” and downright evil. I don’t distinguish on that basis, and neither should you.

Comments

  1. #1 Jody
    July 8, 2010

    Creationists, quacks, science denialists of all stripes, to me they are more or less the same. They’re the common enemies of everyone who supports science…I don’t distinguish on that basis, and neither should you.

    W00t!!!

  2. #2 Pablo
    July 8, 2010

    Your indignation is well-founded, Orac, but won’t matter. It will take those colleagues you mentioned calling him out to make a difference here.

    There is room enough in the world to be opposed to all kinds of woo.

  3. #3 James Sweet
    July 8, 2010

    I wonder if this tendency to see the creationists as Pure Evil and the new age-y quackmeisters as Just Idiots is a social thing more than anything else… I think about my own social group, and while I don’t have any friends or even friends of friends who don’t believe in evolution — that is way too right wing — I do unfortunately know a lot of people who buy into new age-y quackery. And yes, sadly, I even have a few acquaintances who are anti-vaccine (this, incidentally, is why I am not invited to come to some of my son’s playgroups depending on whose house it is at…) Apparently the brother-in-law of a friend of my wife’s is even a professional homeopath — I rather like this friend, but I hope I never meet her brother in law, because I do not have the social restraint that my wife has. It would be ugly to see the least.

    Not knowing any creationists, it’s easy to view them as “less than human”… they are outside my monkeysphere. I do, however, have a bunch of quack-lovers inside my monkeysphere. Their humanity stares me right in the face. So I must see them as deluded, poor critical thinkers, etc., instead of just writing them off as The Enemy.

    To maybe put it more simply… While objectively, health quackery is clearly more dangerous (at least in the short term), the evolution “debate” finds itself firmly in the midst of the Culture Wars, which stimulates a subjective rage that is absent in the former. For many liberals such as myself, creationists are The Other, while alternative health quacktitioners are present among the deluded and dumb in my own tribe.

  4. #4 James Sweet
    July 8, 2010

    To be clear, nothing in my comment at #3 is meant as a rebuttal to this post in any way, shape, or form. I totally agree with you, I’m just trying to speculate on why this might have come to be.

  5. #5 sheldon101
    July 8, 2010

    I didn’t realize that Huff-Po was giving a place to the type of bloggers that Alex Pareene was complaining about. I’m actually a bit surprised by that as Huff-Po’s sins usually come from a ‘leftist’ point of view and giving space to a Discovery Institute hack wouldn’t be what I would expect.

    I certainly agree that the more immediate problem is Huff-Po’s embrace of woo of all types and especially the whole range of anti-vaxers and fellow travelers.

    I’m quite active at Huff-Po as sheldon101. I specialize in researching and responding to the crap spewed by the anti-vaxers there. This is my contribution to trying to minimize the body count of the anti-vaxers. Those researched comments often end up as entries at my blog, http://www.vaccineswork.blogspot.com

    It does not make me loved at Huff-Po. Like Orac, I don’t expect others in the skeptical/science based community to choose the same opponents as I do. I don’t see a problem with going after the Discovery Institute and its ilk. But creationism isn’t going to get much traction at Huff-Po as its audience isn’t inclined that way.

    But it is inclined to the thousands of flavors of woo and to being anti-science and anti-vaccine. I think that’s important and I’m pissed that others who share a common world view don’t think it is important.

  6. #6 elly
    July 8, 2010

    Many people turn a relatively blind eye to health quackery, on the grounds that it’s been with us for ages… it’s more or less background noise, compared to the kind of havoc wreaked by the creationists and IDers.

    But the stuff on HuffPo is just insane. For example, my husband recently sent me a link to an unhinged aspartame rant by none other than Dr. Mercola – who was actually touting the results of a homemade cancer bioassay done by a “private citizen.” He calls it a “truly compelling case study” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mercola/americas-deadliest-sweete_b_630549.html

    LOL – I’ve done animal research and am married to a toxicologist… yet even I wouldn’t have the hubris to tackle doing my own, solo rat study – so I can imagine what a sad joke this “case study” really is. That even this isn’t too crazy for the so-called editors over at the HuffPo speaks volumes.

  7. #7 Arabidopsis
    July 8, 2010

    There is actually a pretty strong connection between creationists and herbal remedy/vitamin woo. If a omniscient being designed this pretty plant why wouldn’t he be so kind as to toss in a few cure-alls among the pretty, pretty plants. I’ve seen lots of christian bookstore/herbal and vitamin stores.

  8. #8 Dangerous Bacon
    July 8, 2010

    True – there’s a lot of “God put this plant on earth for a purpose” ideology among supporters of herbalism.

  9. #9 augustine
    July 8, 2010

    Thank you James Sweet for confirming that Atheism and so called science-based medicine branch off of the same tree. And when you water that tree, social darwinism also gets wet.

    James Sweet: “So I must see them as deluded, poor critical thinkers, etc., instead of just writing them off as The Enemy.”

    Nice. You must be a people person. Quite the party charmer. Ready to set people straight about the truth at any moment. Very endearing quality. Upper management material written all over this one.

    If you want to write people off for their views then you as an atheist better be prepared to be written off just for being an atheist.

  10. #10 Ron
    July 8, 2010

    Chill, Orac. If people believe the crap on HuffPo, don’t have their children vaccinated and their children die – that’s evolution at work. Future generations will be more inclined to vaccinate.

  11. #11 Travis
    July 8, 2010

    I really agree with Orac and echo the importance of the quote that Jody point out in the first comment. I find all forms of denialism and quackery to be interesting, be it about evolution, medicine, the holocaust, UFOs, etc. I enjoy reading about it and getting involved. But likewise, after years of seeing these people I view them as all being basically the same, they all have the same cargo-cult science methods just applied to their own interests. I thought most other skeptics saw things the same way but once and a while I am shocked back into my senses and find out that not everyone has the same broad interests as I do nor do they pay that much attention outside of their main areas of focus.

  12. #12 avihappy
    July 8, 2010

    @9

    You forget that unvaccinated children are not only a threat to themselves but are also threats to vaccinated children. They are also dangers to those who have not yet been vaccinated.

  13. #13 Left_Wing_Fox
    July 8, 2010

    I do think there’s also structural element that allows people to accept woo more than creationism.

    So woo-meister love to point out, medicine dosen’t have all the answers. Science is the only way we’ll FIND those answers, but that’s cold comfort to people who are affected by diseases that are currently untreatable, or are faced with the “crazy” stigma associated with psychosomatic symptoms.

    I think people are more willing to carve some space for woo because it has provided comfort, even if false comfort, to friends, family and relatives. It’s much easier to point out that a person is wrong on the facts, such as with evolution, than wrong on their personal experiences, as with woo.

    Frankly, I think that’s all the more reason to slam woo, because it is false comfort, and bullshit scams, and has weaselled it’s way into a privileged position in our society.

  14. #14 andrew
    July 8, 2010

    “Chill, Orac. If people believe the crap on HuffPo, don’t have their children vaccinated and their children die – that’s evolution at work. Future generations will be more inclined to vaccinate.”

    That is a truly loathsome point of view.

  15. #15 augustine
    July 8, 2010

    avihappy: “You forget that unvaccinated children are not only a threat to themselves but are also threats to vaccinated children.”

    Because of vaccine failure? Yes because of vaccine failure. Why do you think you guys get “booster” shots?

    avihappy: “They are also dangers to those who have not yet been vaccinated.”

    In your theory? maybe. Where’s the evidence? Evidenced- based people will have a hard time producing said evidence. This is a very weak argument for vaccine persuasion.

  16. #16 David N. Brown
    July 8, 2010

    I have some involvement with an “intelligent design” group, and in that quarter there is very strong criticism of the Discovery Institute, mostly for not taking a stance against “young-Earth” creationism. The “young-Earth” movement does promote some potentially dangerous ideas, egregiously pretending the 1980s Mt. st. Helens eruption was an overthrow of “uniformitarianism”. I find it disturbing to consider what such willful ignorance could lead to in an area actually threatened by volcanic eruptions: “The geologists say it’s going to erupt? What do they know? Before Mt. St. Helens erupted, didn’t they say that geologic catastrophes don’t happen?”

  17. #17 Bite Me
    July 8, 2010

    Even so, I find it hard to believe someone who says he supports science and opposes pseudoscience when he views the quackery and medical pseudoscience on HuffPo as merely “insulting enough” but views creationism as “darker” and downright evil. I don’t distinguish on that basis, and neither should you.

    Perhaps, as ERV pointed out, you should have applied that same logic to the Pepsi controversy. Oh well, I guess intellectual laziness is something even Orac engages in from time to time.

  18. #18 Donna B.
    July 8, 2010

    Add comment #3 to comment #7 and we have a winner. Those in the non-right wing tribe who are “spiritual” are quite susceptible to intelligent design if it’s presented without a Christian coating.

    I offer Rupert Sheldrake as an example of someone offering the type of woo that undermines evolution and can be attractive to members of the non-fundamental Christian tribe.

  19. #19 Chris
    July 8, 2010

    Some reading for Ron at #9. Do try to tell us why we should “chill” over what happened to those boys.

  20. #20 Andyo
    July 8, 2010

    Ron was probably trying to make a joke, but backfired like Obama’s drone joke. The children that die are innocent. And there are other children from other parents, and other people in general, that for some (legitimate) reason or other can’t get vaccinated.

    That sort of attitued of “let the weak/idiots die off”, even if only joking, is why anti-science idiots like creationists think evolution is evil.

  21. #21 jay.sweet
    July 8, 2010

    Add comment #3 to comment #7 and we have a winner. Those in the non-right wing tribe who are “spiritual” are quite susceptible to intelligent design if it’s presented without a Christian coating.

    I offer Rupert Sheldrake as an example of someone offering the type of woo that undermines evolution and can be attractive to members of the non-fundamental Christian tribe.

    Man, I almost mentioned something along the lines of #7 in my original comment, as a caveat. I could have been the sole winner! :D

    Seriously though, yeah, you don’t have to look far for left-wing anti-evolutionists. A little smidge of ought/is confusion, and there you have it.

    However, in the current political climate of the United States, anti-evolutionism is a primarily right wing issue, while health quackery tends to be politically neutral or even a little bit left-leaning. The “Western medicine doesn’t know everything” meme is appealing to the faux-liberal multiculturalism-at-all-costs crowd. (I say faux-liberal, because condoning barbarism like FGM in the name of avoiding “cultural imperialism” is about the most illiberal position I can imagine)

  22. #22 Donna B.
    July 9, 2010

    #18 – Agreed. Politically anyone who says they are anti-evolution or anti-Darwin is not only right wing, but edging toward the FAR right wing. Those on the left side of the political divide are more likely to say they are anti-materialist and in the same breath accuse scientists (especially atheist scientists) of being materialists.

    Either one of these two groups will, if they have their political/scientific way, put an end to evidence-based science.

    I’m no longer familiar enough with the tribes of the leftish variety to know whether these trend toward the FAR left or not. I am familiar enough with the tribes of the rightish persuasion to know that the more highly educated there are also susceptible to Oprahesque type spirituality (and woo) to some extent. These are the people who no longer go to church but are unwilling to closely examine their beliefs. They don’t speak against evolution, but don’t bother to defend it either.

  23. #23 Gopherus Agassizii
    July 9, 2010

    My experience is quite limited and does not count for much, but I have been noticing that woo is becoming more and more of a problem with college students.

    I have been teaching a science unit in my critical thinking courses where we go through Darwin and the nature of scientific knowledge. I have been able to dismantle the anti-evolution arguments the students come up with over the years because they are pretty much the same stuff again and again.

    But the woo can be tricky because its followers often have some quotation from some medical “expert” who published a study somewhere and is now selling mushroom sperm as a cure for most forms of skin cancer. I usually need to show that these people are almost always making money off the mushroom sperm, but the response is always that “big pharma” is the real problem.

    The “big pharma” argument has been difficult to deal with because I actually agree that these companies are often a problem. I do understand that pharmaceutical companies need to be heavily capitalized because of the enormous risks involved in their business, but they can make things difficult when they periodically pull in huge profits and try to patent huge chunks of our genetic information.

    There simply is no equivalent to “big pharma” in the anti-evolution arguments, which has made them easier to deal with. The anti-vaccination folks and woo peddlers usually have half a point, but do not want to realize that they are entirely wrong and terribly dangerous.

  24. #24 David N. Brown
    July 9, 2010

    “Politically anyone who says they are anti-evolution or anti-Darwin is not only right wing, but edging toward the FAR right wing. ”
    As a “moderate” conservative, I disagree. But, I would agree that people who not only criticize the idea of evolution but try to make it a social-political issue are definitely headed in a “far right” direction.”

  25. #25 Donna B.
    July 9, 2010

    #21 – in my experience, those who criticize evolution are almost always trying to make it a “social-political” issue. These are the only people who bother to voice any opinion at all about the subject.

  26. #26 Birger Johansson
    July 9, 2010

    In regard to Huffington Post, it has in its political coverage been a counter-balance to far-right vulgo-conservative purveyors of propaganda -WorldNet Daily is a good example. Unfortunately, it has also welcomed a kind of new-age charlatans and dummies that do harm analogous to the “HIV deniers” in South Africa.

    So what to do about it? People respond to information in ways related to their world view. Conservatives will be suspicious of global warming information from any source they perceive as “liberal”.
    Democrats will be suspicious to bona fide health information if they have internalised the “pharmaceutical companies are concealing the truth about homeopathy/vaccines/alternative medicine” meme.
    There is a hard core of true believers on both sides of the political fence that will not change their minds no matter how many Nobel laureates tries to put them right.
    The rest can be persuaded by a relentless info-campaign provided the sources are what the listeners accept as credible.
    There is no point in -for instance- P Z Myers trying to convince a far-right pundit about the reality of global warming, but a fellow conservative might be successful.

    Those responsible for the content of HuffingtonPost must eventually pay attention to a barrage of criticism from experts with impeccable left-of-center credentials. I wish there was a more straightforward option, but prestige-aware primates do not value every flock member as equally credible. and a fix must take that flaw into consideration.

  27. #27 Jud
    July 9, 2010

    Gopherus Agassizii writes:

    There simply is no equivalent to “big pharma” in the anti-evolution arguments….

    Oh sure there is. What, you’ve never heard of the Evil Atheist Darwinist Conspiracy, ensuring the brave God-fearing Galileo-like ID researchers are shunned by academia and never get a fair scientific hearing?

    The primary difference I see between the EADC and Big Pharma bogeymen is that the latter is portrayed as more of a pocketbook issue. (“Big Pharma is standing between you and the Insider Knowledge of the Cheap Cure that we will sell you for only $99.95! Act now and get 2-for-1!”) Right-leaning religious parents with kids in school may be more concerned about the EADC, while everyone is concerned about money.

  28. #28 Jud
    July 9, 2010

    David N. Brown writes:

    I would agree that people who not only criticize the idea of evolution but try to make it a social-political issue are definitely headed in a “far right” direction.”

    Whether that’s true I can’t say. What I would say is that “people who…criticize the idea of evolution” are uninformed and/or wilfully ignoring the facts.

    There is simply an overwhelming amount of evidence from any number of scientific disciplines gathered over decades, internally consistent and consistent with new discoveries as they occur, supporting the fact and theory of evolution. If you don’t have this impression, you aren’t sufficiently aware of the science, or you are somewhat aware of the science but have a non-scientific reason for discounting it.

    If you have a desire to learn about this overwhelming evidence, I and other commenters will I’m sure be very happy to point you toward some sources.

  29. #29 jay.sweet
    July 9, 2010

    The primary difference I see between the EADC and Big Pharma bogeymen is that the latter is portrayed as more of a pocketbook issue.

    Well, another important difference is that Big Pharma does, in fact, exist, and has even been known to use its power to obstruct science in the name of profits. As Gopher says, this makes it trickier to counter the Pharma Shill Gambit, because it’s at least prime facie plausible.

    Let me put it a different way… as a layperson with just basic knowledge of the players, if somebody comes up to me and starts railing about the Evil Darwinist Conspiracy, I know right off the bat they are crazy, because such a conspiracy doesn’t exist (and never could exist for that matter — where’s the profit? It certainly ain’t in evolutionary biology; I recently found out I make more than PZ Myers, like a lot more!). I don’t even need to scrutinize their claims, because it is based on an impossible premise.

    OTOH, if somebody comes up to me and starts complaining about a Big Pharma cover-up, I can’t dismiss them out of hand. It is probably fair to say that most people accusing Big Pharma of widespread conspiratorial deception are wrong, but they’ve been sadly right in the past on more than one occasion. So in order to properly evaluate this claim, I need to put on my critical thinking cap.

    Unfortunately, most people don’t have one of those in their wardrobe.

  30. #30 historygeek
    July 9, 2010

    Gopherus Agassizii

    i think u might find your counter arguments to big pharme falcey by looking into the history of the FDA namely why it was created. and the devolpment of Sience based medcine. then u can talk about lovly things like swill milk and opium as the mirecle drug sold through harpers weekly it may not cure but damn u felt much better. people today have no idea what life was like before the FDA and other govermental agency’s and the more i learn the more i like them they aren’t perfect but they beat everything else so far

  31. #31 Margaret Toigo
    July 9, 2010

    Every now and then, HuffPo publishes articles that are quite obviously intended to create controversy among its regular readers (pro-vax, anti-evolution, and even political commentary from right-wingers), so I submit that HuffPo is more about hits, impressions and click-thrus than anything else.

  32. #32 mikerattlesnake
    July 9, 2010

    @augustine

    #10 Interesting analysis coming from a vapid, obnoxious contrarian. You could make good money at a movie theater projecting so hard.

    #14 We have long since given up trying to convince you of anything, you are clearly dense beyond hope.

  33. #33 Michael
    July 9, 2010

    “OTOH, if somebody comes up to me and starts complaining about a Big Pharma cover-up, I can’t dismiss them out of hand. It is probably fair to say that most people accusing Big Pharma of widespread conspiratorial deception are wrong, but they’ve been sadly right in the past on more than one occasion. So in order to properly evaluate this claim, I need to put on my critical thinking cap. ”
    Yes, but some of the crazy claims I’ve heard would practically require Big Pharma to have half the scientists in the world on its payroll. That’s just not plausible.
    I remember a while back, when Reverend Wright’s “scientists invented AIDS” comments were making publicity, some people on various blogs were trying to defend him on the grounds that there WERE instances when scientists lied to minorities, such as the Tuskagee Experiment, so for minorities not to trust scientists is understandable. Except that the Tuskagee Experiment involved a relatively small group of people, while a conspiracy to cover up the man-made origins of AIDS would involve many thousands of people in many different countries.
    At some point you have to wonder if there IS a liberal bias at work here- creationism is bad because it’s right-wing, New Age woo is not as bad because it isn’t.

  34. #34 James Sweet
    July 9, 2010

    Woah, I didn’t even see augustine’s bizarre swipe at me, taken in the face of trying to be self-reflective and honest.

    Nice. You must be a people person. Quite the party charmer. Ready to set people straight about the truth at any moment. Very endearing quality. Upper management material written all over this one.

    Indeed, because no matter how wrong any given belief is, you must tell the person that their perspective is completely valid, or else you are an asshole. Yeah, that makes sense.

    Thank you James Sweet for confirming that Atheism and so called science-based medicine branch off of the same tree.

    First of all, I’m not sure why you would assume I was an atheist because I am a liberal and a believer in evolution, but it turns out I am, so we’ll proceed.

    Well, yes, I think us so-called “New Atheists” have been saying things along this line for quite some time. If one is devoted to honest free inquiry, it rapidly becomes clear that a) science-based medicine, for all it’s flaws, consistently outperforms made-up medicine; and b) the vast majority of the world’s religions make truth claims that are clearly false, and those that don’t are unfalsifiable and (for my money) irrelevant. It seems to me that free thought leads pretty inexorably to both of these conclusions. So yes, I suppose I agree with you.

    And when you water that tree, social darwinism also gets wet.

    Google “ought/is fallacy”, and then STFU.

    Do you think there was a tsunami that struck southeast Asia a few years ago and killed hundreds of thousands of people? You do? Well then you must think that tsunamis are a good thing! After all, if you admit it is real, you must also be advocating that as the optimal way the world ought to work!!!

    DERP! No, sorry, sit down and try again once you are a little less stupid.

    If you want to write people off for their views then you as an atheist better be prepared to be written off just for being an atheist.

    Um… I guess I am? I don’t appreciate that, but of course I recognize it’s the reality.

    I’m not sure what you are getting at here. It seems to me that you are advocating an extreme form of relativism, where if I think anybody is wrong about anything, I therefore must also be wrong about everything. I don’t understand what kind of point you are making.

    People who are anti-vaccine are often very nice people, but on that point, they are wrong. I know there are many people who think atheists are very nice people but are wrong about religion. I happen to think those people are wrong. Obviously.

    Maybe you are referring to my allusion to creationists as “The Enemy”? I thought that by linking to the monkeysphere thing, by using the term The Other (with all of its psychosociopolitical implications), I was making it clear that I was referring in the abstract to a perception — and a false perception at that. Of course creationists are people, and of course many of them are quite nice. I suspect my parents believe in a form of YEC, but I would really prefer not to know. My point was that since many of us on the left don’t really have any creationist friends, there is a natural human tendency to write them off as people. I wasn’t advocating that position, I was merely observing that it’s what we humans often do. Google “monkeysphere” — it’s a tongue-in-cheek explanation, and I think the guy gets a lot of things wrong, but it’s a memorable image with huge explanatory power.

    For the record, us humanists believe we need to overcome the limitations of the monkeysphere, which is pretty much the opposite of social Darwinism. So I don’t know where you’re getting that… Oh wait, it’s because U R DUM.

  35. #35 James Sweet
    July 9, 2010
    So in order to properly evaluate this claim, I need to put on my critical thinking cap.

    Yes, but some of the crazy claims I’ve heard would practically require Big Pharma to have half the scientists in the world on its payroll. That’s just not plausible.

    I agree, but I still think that requires an iota of critical thinking. Your Tuskeegee experiment/scientists-invented-AIDS comparison is illustrative here: One needs to recognize that as a false analogy, and that requires critical thinking.

    At some point you have to wonder if there IS a liberal bias at work here- creationism is bad because it’s right-wing, New Age woo is not as bad because it isn’t.

    Yeah, I think that’s the bigger factor, honestly. But I also think Gopherus has a point too. At the very least, he’s right that it makes the Big Pharma gambit somewhat harder to refute.

    It makes anti-science-based medicine people laugh when I say this, but I think the Vioxx tragedy is a demonstration of the robustness of science-based medicine. Here we really did have an honest-to-gosh Big Pharma conspiracy to conceal inconvenient data for the purposes of enlarging profits — and they “only” got away with it for about five years or so. Not to minimize the enormity of such a crime or the countless lives that were affected, but when you compare this to the sham of homeopathy, which has persisted for TWO HUNDRED YEARS, SBM wins hands down.

  36. #36 Sid Offit
    July 9, 2010

    We’d see increases in the number of children suffering from vaccine-preventable infectious disease. Oh, wait. We’ve already seen that in the U.K. We’d see more deaths, suffering, and brain damage

    —————————–

    U.K.? Wasn’t that the civilazation that existed on a island off the coast of Europe until it was destroyed by a measles outbreak whose geneis was a discredited MMR study?

  37. #37 squirrelelite
    July 9, 2010

    I guess that shows your true perspective, Sid.

    It seems that nothing less than total destruction of a civilization is important enough to matter.

  38. #38 augustine
    July 9, 2010

    James Sweet: “Not to minimize the enormity of such a crime or the countless lives that were affected, but when you compare this to the sham of homeopathy, which has persisted for TWO HUNDRED YEARS, SBM wins hands down.”

    That’s all you have? SBM is the lesser of two evils in your mind? Nice justification of existence.

    If we had to do a body count on confirmed kills. SBM wins hands down. But who cares, right? The end justifies the means.

    Joseph Stalin: “One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic.”

  39. #39 Andreas Johansson
    July 9, 2010

    Jud wrote:

    The primary difference I see between the EADC and Big Pharma bogeymen is that the latter is portrayed as more of a pocketbook issue. (“Big Pharma is standing between you and the Insider Knowledge of the Cheap Cure that we will sell you for only $99.95! Act now and get 2-for-1!”) Right-leaning religious parents with kids in school may be more concerned about the EADC, while everyone is concerned about money.

    You have point. However, I think it’s worth pointing out that a significant proportion of the Big Pharma complaints I hear seem to presuppose that Big Pharma is less interested in money than in killing people for teh lulz. (If, frex, antiretrovirals kill people, why don’t sell sugar water to the HIV+ instead? They’d live longer and buy more of the stuff, which would presumably be cheaper to make anyway.)

  40. #40 Rogue Medic
    July 9, 2010

    @10 augustine,

    Thank you James Sweet for confirming that Atheism and so called science-based medicine branch off of the same tree.

    If they do, then nothing James Sweet writes confirms or disproves the alleged connection.

    While an atheist may agree with you, a religious person who understands science-based medicine will not.

    Both arrive at science-based medicine by looking at the medical evidence.

    Everything else depends on ignoring evidence.

    Belief is arrived at by believing. While the same could be said for the quackery you defend, there is abundant and repeatable evidence that your quackery does not work. It is just fraud.

    There is also no reason to associate Darwin with atheism. The Catholic Church does not. Only specific religious sects choose to promote, My God is a little God, and I want Him to stay that way.

    The conflict between religion and evolution is just an excuse for not understanding science.

  41. #41 Gopherus Agassizii
    July 9, 2010

    One problem I see is that the marketing of woo is often handled quite well. These dumbass M.D.s writing at The Huffington Post and others of that ilk are using the trust and authority that doctors receive to sell not only mushroom sperm but also a belief system that provides a lot of good feeling and ambiguously defined hope. Scientifically based medicine offers probabilities, possibilities and percentages.

    There is also the ability of woo to sound critical and insightful when it provides clear answers to cause-and-effect questions that scientific medicine knows are not so easy to answer. The idea that the dangerous chemicals in MMR shots cause autism allow the parent to believe he or she sees through the hype and understands what is really going on. I heard a good deal of this kind of thinking when I had to listen to people telling me my acoustic neuroma (a benign tumor on the auditory nerve) was caused by my cell phone. The tumor was on the right side, so the proof was conclusive to them.

    The position of being nobody’s fool is quite appealing to someone making a very foolish move and signing on to woo. It gives them a moral fortitude to deal with the difficulties coming their way medically and allows them to ignore the language of probabilities, possibilities and percentages and find certainty even when there is none of it to be found.

    Humans are cause-and-effect thinkers, and woo markets itself to that thinking pattern. Good scientists are able to recognize what they can and cannot deal with but also what is currently ambiguous. Woo answers those ambiguous questions with clear descriptions of causes that are often dressed in the rhetoric but not the methods of good medicine.

  42. #42 James Jones
    July 10, 2010

    Orac,

    First let me be clear, I think that Quackery and Creationism are both rubbish and nonsense.

    I do disagree however with your stance than Quackery in its present incarnation (oops:) is more evil than present day Creationism.

    My position is this – While the promotion of Quackery is something to be fought at every step, at least quackery is not yet being taught in many or most schools. (I refer to compulsory age 5 to 16 public or other education, not universities.) We don’t have “Sugar pill” schools, or “No-vac” schools, or “chiropractic” schools where children have to recite for example no-vac bullshit for ten minutes every morning. Perhaps also get an hour a week of compulsory Quack Studies by *LAW*. In the UK we do have, Church of England schools, Catholic schools, and many others varieties and I am pretty sure that religion is taught in US schools too.

    This is the reason that I think that sky-fairy worship is more dangerous than quackery. It poisons the minds of children so that they perhaps never learn to think for themselves.

    I by the way think that the sky fairy thing way way way WAY WAY *MORE* dangerous than present day quackery. Could it even be the case that without ‘the sky-fairy childhood mind poisioning rituals’ that the quacks would never get a look in?

    Of course I am sure that the Alt-meds would LOVE to have their shite spouted in schools. I guess that if they should openly declare it as a religion they will get their way since we have “freedon of religion” even if that religion involves for example death threats to and the deaths of authors and publishers. We have apparently to tolerate this freedon of religion. Not to tolerate it would be intolerant it appears.

    Jim.

    PS
    I have lived in the UK all my life but the differences between UK and US in these matters seem quite small to me, matters of degree in this area or that area.

  43. #43 augustine
    July 10, 2010

    Thank you Jim Jones @41 for providing more evidence of atheism being the apriori for SBM (the skeptic brand of science).

    Now, rogue ambulance driver says that “a religious person who understands science-based medicine will not” [agree].

    He says they both arrive at SBM by looking at the facts.

    So if this is true, and it’s only about the facts, nevermind the framing of purported facts, then where do the SBM theist and atheist diverge on facts? Immediately after? Is the theist no longer rationale? Is the atheist rationale? Who decides whose belief is right? And how do they decide this?

    Jim Jones says, “Could it even be the case that without ‘the sky-fairy childhood mind poisioning rituals’ that the quacks would never get a look in?”

    The sky fairy he speaks refers to any representation of any belief other than the random chaotic accidental cosmic soup that is called universe (correct me if I’m wrong). And he’s right. If everyone had this view then their wouldn’t be a need for a skeptic’s cult meeting on how to set the stupid, irrational, intelligent design believing freaks straight on the truth about medicine and the nature of this world. The facts would line up with the narrative and the apriori. There would be no other narrative or apriori.

    And when pro choice vaccine people talk about the right to not vaccinate being taken away it’s usually countered with slippery slope arguments from SBMers. But if enough people adopt the belief system of Jim Jones and drink the Kool-Aid then that slope will slip. And “apparently” Jim will be happy to push.

    “We have apparently to tolerate this freedon of religion. Not to tolerate it would be intolerant it appears.”

  44. #44 Hah hahahahaha!
    July 10, 2010

    who is surprised that augustine believes in intelligent design?

    *snort*

  45. #45 Rogue Medic
    July 10, 2010

    Now, rogue ambulance driver says that “a religious person who understands science-based medicine will not” [agree].

    Show me where theists who understand science reject science. You will have your occasional person, such as Behe, but he has been thoroughly discredited. He does not appear to have changed the minds of other theists, except maybe to convince them that Beheism is wrong.

    He says they both arrive at SBM by looking at the facts.

    So if this is true, and it’s only about the facts, nevermind the framing of purported facts, then where do the SBM theist and atheist diverge on facts?

    You are the one who claims that there is a divergence on facts.

    Please provide some sort of evidence of this alleged divergence.

    Immediately after?

    Immediately after what?

    Is the theist no longer rationale? Is the atheist rationale? Who decides whose belief is right? And how do they decide this?

    Interesting questions, but only if you filter your understanding of science through a rigid belief system that denies science.

    None of the major religions deny science. Only certain sects deny science.

    You are describing a conflict that only exists for one who refuses to accept any science that does not confirm his belief(s).

    Obviously, this is not science, but a demonstration of a lack of understanding of science.

  46. #46 augustine
    July 11, 2010

    Rogue: “You are describing a conflict that only exists for one who refuses to accept any science that does not confirm his belief(s).”

    Think broader.That’s not all I’m describing. What about the one who accepts all of scientific consensus, even the ones that conflict with his/her belief, yet holds on to his metaphysical beliefs contrarily? Where is the critical thinking there? Do they get a pass because they believe in SBM yet do not apply critical thinking in other areas of life? Is this a rational person?

    Is the glass half full or half empty? Who’s right? Aren’t they both looking at the same facts? If 99 say it half empty does it invalidate the 1 who says it’s half full? Does it change the facts?

  47. #47 augustine
    July 11, 2010

    rogue: “Show me where theists who understand science reject science.”

    You show me a scientist who understands G-d and rejects G-d. You’re logic is not going to work here. Because all I have to do is say he doesn’t “really” understand G-d or discredit him such as you have done.

    Rogue: “You will have your occasional person, such as Behe, but he has been thoroughly discredited.”

    Rogue: “You are the one who claims that there is a divergence on facts.Please provide some sort of evidence of this alleged divergence.”

    Do you see the dillema? If the facts are the same then how did they come to diametrically opposing conclusions using the same facts?

    See what I mean? He doesn’t “really” understand science or he has been discredited and he “doesn’t count”.

    rogue: “None of the major religions deny science. Only certain sects deny science.”

    I don’t deny science. Many scientists don’t deny the existence of a god. The problem is the definition and boundaries of science.

    rogue: “Interesting questions, but only if you filter your understanding of science through a rigid belief system that denies science.”

    That’s just an intellectually lazy way to not ponder on the question. What if one doesn’t deny science and believes in a god? Where does this person fit in serfdom?

    Is science infalliable? Does it give us the truth? Can it ever?

    Is truth temporal?

    Is the reality of practical medicine being confused with science by calling it SBM?

  48. #48 maydijo
    July 11, 2010

    I have a rule of thumb I use in judging any conspiracy: “How many people have to keep quiet?” In the case of the Big Pharma Shill, you’re talking tens of thousands of people. How do you keep that many people quiet? Unless you’re Stalin it’s just not possible. And look, I hate Big Pharma as much as the next guy – until I’m sick, and then I pray at the Big Pharma alter – but they don’t even come close to Stalin.

    On the other hand, when it comes to Woo, it’s almost all the “brave maverick doctor” – singular – who has made this Amazing Break-through and discovered the Miracle Cure. It’s very easy to keep one person silent, particularly if that one person is *you* and you are profiting from your silence.

  49. #49 Rogue Medic
    July 12, 2010

    You show me a scientist who understands G-d and rejects G-d.

    I did not make any claims about scientists rejecting God.

    Are you claiming that theists who understand science-based medicine do not understand God?

    Do you see the dillema? If the facts are the same then how did they come to diametrically opposing conclusions using the same facts?

    Why do you come to the conclusion that they are looking at the same facts?

    What led to Behe’s embarrassment was his decision to ignore facts that did not support his bias. If you are going to claim that something is faulty, or impossible, you need to look at the research on it. He chose to dismiss research even though he admitted that he had never looked at it.

    He is ignoring the facts that do not support his bias, so the claim that they are using the same facts is not even close to true.

    Only using facts that support one’s biases is just bad reasoning.

    See what I mean? He doesn’t “really” understand science or he has been discredited and he “doesn’t count”.

    Science is about having to prove that your claim is true, or that it cannot be falsified. Scientists accept the results, when their claims are falsified.

    Science-based medicine is about having to prove that your treatment is safe and efficacious.

    I am not aware of any reason to believe that God opposes science-based medicine.

    Few religions take any position opposed to science-based medicine, although Scientology and some branches of Christian Science seem to.

    I don’t deny science. Many scientists don’t deny the existence of a god. The problem is the definition and boundaries of science.

    Then maybe you should explain what it is about science-based medicine that you find to be a problem. A problem that is not limited to isolated religious sects.

    What if one doesn’t deny science and believes in a god? Where does this person fit in serfdom?

    Serfdom?

    I guess you wanted to make it clear that you do not approach this with any bias at all.

    You are just rephrasing my statement.

    Where is there anything about science-based medicine that depends on a rejection of God?

    Is science infalliable? Does it give us the truth? Can it ever?

    Science is not infallible.

    Science depends on looking for and correcting mistakes.

    Science is a process for getting closer to the truth.

    You appear to be looking for a God in science.

    Science is not a God.

    You are asking irrelevant questions.

    You are asking the wrong questions.

    Is truth temporal?

    For Christians, the New Testament changed the truth of The Bible.

    The truth of the Old Testament and the truth of the New Testament differ temporally.

    Science is a process for getting closer to the truth, not for claiming what the ultimate truth is.

    Is the reality of practical medicine being confused with science by calling it SBM?

    What do you mean by the reality of practical medicine?

    Science is a process, not a result. You seem to be caught up in the idea that science is a result, rather than a process for arriving at results – results which should not be worshipped, because they are just steps on the path of science.