Respectful Insolence

A couple of days ago, I did one of my usual bits of pontification about alternative medicine, this time around pointing out how religion facilitates the magical thinking that undergirds so much pseudoscientific medicine and how the belief systems that underlie so so much of alternative medicine resembel the belief systems that underlie religion. However, in retrospect, I suspect that I might have gone a little too far. Although the two share many aspects, alternative medicine is not in general a religion (with the possible exception of reiki, which, for all intents and purposes, is faith healing that substitutes Eastern mystical beliefs for Christianity as its basis).

On the other hand, there is a major component of so much of alternative medicine that shares another major component of religion, and that’s the infantile belief that the universe actually gives a rodent’s posterior about you. In other words, many “alt-med” modalities have at their basis the idea that we humans can somehow bend the unfeeling universe to our wills in order to prevent us from ever suffering from ill health or, if we do suffer from ill health, to enable us to overcome it. The basic idea is that virtue is health, which implies that lack of virtue is ill health. What flows from this concept is that if you behave virtuously you will never get sick. The universe/nature/great spirit/whatever will see to that, because it likes it when we do the “right” things and doesn’t like it when we do not. To some extent, of course, there s a grain of truth to this sort of thinking in that eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight under control, not smoking, not drinking to excess, and in general following healthy habits will maximize your chances of remaining healthy. However, many alt-med believers go far beyond that. For example, remember how Bill Maher once said that his lifestyle would make him immune to the flu, such that he doesn’t need the flu vaccine and wouldn’t get te flu on an airplane during flu season? It was an utterance that led Bob Costas, of all people, to dismissively retort, “Gh, come on, Superman!” Other examples include claims that you can nearly completely prevent cancer through avoiding “toxins,” eating a healthy diet (defined as whatever the alt-med modality says a healthy diet is), and “living right” and that serious diseases can be cured through diet and lifestyle alone. Such beliefs, merged with prescientific vitalism, also underlie germ theory denialism, which, as hard as it is to believe, is quite common among antivaccinationists and many believers in alt-med.

At the risk of drifting too close to Godwin territory, I can’t help but liken it to the “triumph of the will”; i.e., when it comes to health, will overcomes all. Such a belief manifests itself (if you’ll excuse the phrase) in a softer, fuzzier form in The Secret, which is basically the claim (referred to as the Law of Attraction) that you attract or become what you think about and want the most. While on a certain level, it’s hard to argue that to some extent this must be true (if we want something bad enough we will try to get it, which makes it more likely that we will get it, and we do tend to hang out with people who share our general world view), on an only slightly deeper level it is obvious that there are extreme limits on how much this sort of thing can work and that it’s incredibly unreliable.

I was reminded of this, which inspired me (if you can call it that) to revisit the topic of alt-med as religion by yet another brain-fryingly silly post at the antivaccine crank blog (no, not that antivaccine crank blog!) The Thinking Moms’ Revolution entitled Cogito Ergo Sum. The particular (un)thinking mom who wrote this post goes by the ‘nym of Princess, and the post itself reveals a bit of the privileged attitude of a Princess in that Princess apparently believes that the universe will give her what she wants if she just wants it. She starts out with a mind-numbingly wrong interpretation of Descarte’s famous saying Cogito Ergo Sum (“I think therefore I am”) and then plunges straight into Secret territory. She first discusses a couple of examples from her life, such as her deciding that she wanted a job for which she was marginally qualified so badly that she pursued it with a single-minded intensity that intrigued the person advertising the position enough to hire her, to which I say: Congratulations! There’s no doubt that intent can matter a great deal. There’s also little doubt that if she hadn’t pursued the job at all (or only pursued it half-heartedly) she wouldn’t have gotten it. That’s what we call a “Well, duh!” observation. Even so, I can’t help but wonder if in Princess’ choice of examples there isn’t massive confirmation bias going on, in which she remembers the “hits,” when her intent resulted in her getting what she wants, and forgets all the failures. Perhaps the best example of probable confirmation bias is this anecdote related by Princess:

One recent hysterical example of this occurred during one of my workouts at a local boot camp. The day’s workout entailed the trainer calling out an entire deck of cards, with each suit representing a different exercise, and whose number dictated the number of repetitions we would do. At first he called aloud the queen of hearts (queen representing 14, hearts representing box jumps). Now, I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with box jumps, but I can tell you that they are one of the harder exercises we have to do. Basically, you propel all your energy and thrust your body to jump up on a 22 inch (or higher) box, both feet at once, and then jump off the box in the same fashion. After doing 14 of these, all of us were pretty exhausted! As soon as we finished, one of my classmates yelled out to the trainer, “Please don’t call the jack of hearts next!” In an instant, because of all my work playing with my attitudes and beliefs, I instinctively readied myself for the jack of hearts. Despite the entire deck of cards having been well shuffled, sure enough, the jack of hearts it was! To my delight, I smiled and annihilated each of those 13 box jumps.

One wonders how many times her prediction or wishes regarding what card was drawn failed to “manifest” itself.

In any case, it doesn’t take Princess long to jump off the proverbial deep end based on these examples, in particular her example of getting the job she wanted:

When you propel all your mental and emotional faculties toward a common vision or goal, not only are you putting out some sort of magnetic energy and attraction to the universe but you also actually create a real, physiological manifestation of cell growth in your brain. Enough practice doing this can create what is called neurogenesis – entirely new and real neuropathways that can actually also create healing within your body!!! This idea is often referred to as ‘neuroplasticity,’ the idea that our brains are like plastic and can be molded and changed, and in this case, just by thinking.

This is, of course, a massive misinterpretation of neuroplasticity (I know, big surprise there). In fact, just like the claim that various alt-med treatments can “boost the immune system” the claim that just thinking really hard about something can induce “neuroplasticity,” in essence rewiring your brain and body to heal it, is so vague as to be meaningless. Does Princess mean synaptic plasticity? The creation and removal of of synapses? The migration of neurons? Neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons)? Does she mean functional reorganization? Does she mean learning? After all, learning new tasks “rewires” the brain. In fact, contrary to the its sudden apparent discovery by woo-meisters, neuroplasticity is not a new concept. Also, as pointed out here, everything we experience in some way “rewires” the brain:

Neuroplasticity is common in popular culture at this point in time because mentioning the brain makes a claim about human nature seem more scientific, even if it is irrelevant (a tendency called ‘neuroessentialism‘).

Clearly this is rubbish and every time you hear anyone, scientist or journalist, refer to neuroplasticity, ask yourself what specifically they are talking about. If they don’t specify or can’t tell you, they are blowing hot air. In fact, if we banned the word, we would be no worse off.

And:

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the brain is not flexible or that the discoveries about how the brain changes are not important. It’s simply that neuroplasticity has become a rhetorical device that, in itself, tells us nothing without further explanation.

All neuroscience is the science of how the brain changes and if you’re not being told exactly how this change is taking place, someone is likely wasting your time or trying to pull the wool over your eyes.

I completely agree that invocations of “neuroplasticity” of the sort that Princess does are utter nonsense. In the world of woo, Princess invoking “neuroplasticity” is no different than Deepak Chopra invoking the word “quantum” to make his nonsense about “universal consciousness” sound all science-y or Lionel Milgrom invoking “quantum effects” to “explain” homeopathy. Or, to cite a previous example, it’s no different than when quacks invoke immunity or the immune system or claim that something “boosts the immune system.” It’s no different than when naturopaths blame whatever’s wrong with you on “toxins” or when various quacks invoke epigenetics to claim that something can “heal” you or that we can radically change gene expression in various organs just by willing it. It’s all window dressing. Believers in woo like Princess sprinkle scientific language on their pseudoscience like so much glitter sprinkled on a turd to make it sparkly. Unfortunately, there’s still a turd underneath all that shiny glitter. There might be a grain of scientific validity at the center of that turd, like a kernel of corn from a previous meal, but its covered with poop.

I would beg to differ slightly here, though. Where I disagree is that, in this case at least (and probably most cases) believers aren’t trying to pull the wool over your eyes. They really believe that what they are saying is scientifically profound, a description for lay people of the latest scientific progress. Someone, somewhere, sprinkled glitter on a turd and it impressed them; so they show the turd to someone else and sprinkle even more glitter on it and are shocked when people with an actual scientific background (or at least two functioning neurons) are completely unimpressed.

So we have the window dressing. Now let’s get to the turd. In this case, the turd is the idea that because our brains have some degree of neuroplasticity it means that thinking or believing hard enough can lead to amazing changes in our brains and nervous system that lead to healing. But, even more than that, it means to Princess that by thinking happy thoughts she can heal her child’s autism. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m in no way saying that being a loving parent who supports her child is not important and can’t have profound effects. That’s about as self-evident as a contention can be. It’s not what Princess is claiming, however. Rather, she’s claiming that by thinking happy thoughts she can bend the universe to her will and not just facilitate her child’s growth and healing but create it. She’s implying, if not outright claiming, that “intent” and “belief” trump biology.

This leads Princess to conclude:

So what is the moral of the story? While doing all the other therapies and interventions for your child, nutritional, biomedical, and behavioral – do not discount the power of your beliefs and intentions. YOU have the power to help your child heal…

if you believe it so.

And if you wish for that bike badly enough, you’ll get it; that is, if your parents can afford it.

Part of growing up is the eventual realization that not only doesn’t the universe owe you anything but that wishing doesn’t make it so. For what is the sort of wishing that Princess advocates other than, in essence, praying, and what is the “conscious universe” described by Deepak Chopra but God? That is not to say that intent is unimportant, but we have to act on that intent, and even then we will often fail. Intent is not the be-all and end-all, and fetishizing it, as so many quacks do, actually obscures the fact that we actually do have quite a bit of control over our health that we can exercise through our lifestyle and diet. We just have to realize that that control is nowhere near total. “Good” people who eat all the right foods, take all the right supplements, and avoid all the bad things like smoking still get cancer and heart disease and die at a young age, and “bad” people (like, for instance, George Burns, who smoked cigars, drank, and ate lots of red meat his entire life) live to be 100.

Comments

  1. #1 Heliantus
    August 17, 2012

    Despite the entire deck of cards having been well shuffled, sure enough, the jack of hearts it was!

    If it was a training session in the army, I would have suspected the sergeant to have “mis-shuffled” the deck. Never say to the guy in charge of training you “please let’s not do more of this”.

  2. #2 Pris
    August 17, 2012

    Oh, I agree with you so much.

    My uncle’s first wive (my dad’s sister) died of breast cancer. His second wife’s mother died of breast cancer. His second wife stuck to a healthy diet, exercised, didn’t smoke and was a healthy weight. She still got breast cancer and couldn’t understand how since she did everything ‘right’.
    Thankfully, she stuck to conventional medicine and was diagnosed early enough to get really effective treatment.

    Personally I find the fact that we live in a completely random universe without some kind of divine plan extremely comforting. Bad things just happen and it doesn’t matter if you’re a good or a bad person.

  3. #3 AllieP
    August 17, 2012

    When the woo folk start talking about eating “real food” I’m always led to wonder if they think everyone else in the world is on the Super Size Me diet. I don’t eschew processed food, but most of my meals consist of “real” food — fruits and vegetables, milk and yogurt, fish and chicken that I cook myself so I know what goes into it, whole grains. Especially in the summer, when my garden is nuts, I’d say fresh or grilled veggies account for a good 50% of my diet.

    Then again, their definition of “real food” might be different than mine.

    There’s a very Wooful blog I occasionally read where the woman puts her family through the most bizarre food fads (like 30 days of only kefir and nuts) at the urging of her TCM doc and she is always talking about how food heals and yet she has more health problems than anyone I know in real life my age — but apparently, according to her TCM doc, that’s showing it’s working?

  4. #4 johnV
    August 17, 2012

    Let me check. Nope, still bald.

  5. #5 Eric Lund
    August 17, 2012

    Despite the entire deck of cards having been well shuffled, sure enough, the jack of hearts it was!

    Which is not all that unlikely: assuming that the deck really was well shuffled, there are 51 possibilities for the second card, one of which is the jack of hearts, a probability of just under 2%. (Starting from a fresh deck, the probability that the first two cards are the Q-J of hearts is 2/(52*51) or about 0.08%, which is high enough to not be all that unusual.) Furthermore, the trainer still might have slipped in a cold deck: It turns out that eight perfect shuffles restores the original order of the cards (I worked that out for myself many years ago).

    Confirmation bias? We can’t be sure because she doesn’t show the evidence, but I would say that’s likely.

  6. #6 Andreas Johansson
    August 17, 2012

    What flows from this concept is that if you behave virtuously you will never get sick. The universe/nature/great spirit/whatever will see to that, because it likes it when we do the “right” things and doesn’t like it when we do not. To some extent, of course, there s a grain of truth to this sort of thinking in that eating a healthy diet, keeping your weight under control, not smoking, not drinking to excess, and in general following healthy habits will maximize your chances of remaining healthy.

    While there may be dust speck of truth here, the causation is completely backwards: healthy habits aren’t healthy because they’re virtuous, they’re considered virtuous because they’re healthy.

    I guess it’s part of an animist worldview: causes don’t have results due to biological, chemical, etc laws, but rather we’re rewarded or punished for good or bad deeds by gods/spirits/whatever.

  7. #7 justawriter
    August 17, 2012

    Today’s SMBC seems to have been written specifically to illustrate a future Orac column
    http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=2706#comic

  8. #8 Denice Walter
    August 17, 2012

    I’m waiting for her to take on Hume.

    All joking aside, I find it intriguing that people I survey are using philosophy, neurophysiology and cognitive psychology to impress their followers now rather than the tired, old quantum physics references. Actually, psychology might be somewhat apropo in her case because Freud wrote about the Wish as the foundation of a person’s development: however, you’re supposed to go on from there.

    At any rate, reading TMR often makes me feel as though I am an anthropologist observing a new cult being birthed – a matriarchy, yet. Usually I would think that to be rather cool but not so here.

    Orac writes about *la Principessa*’s privileged status but here she is amongst a horde of the much entitled because they believe that being a mother gives you special insight into the workings of a child’s brain or personality that we commoners ( non-mothers) can’t possibly fathom. We’ve heard this meme being circulated amongst other anti-vaccinationists.

    Because these people don’t really study what they talk about there is a tendency to create tutorials for their followers that are literally, *wish lists*. Having followers and setting up meet-and-greets at conferences gives them a boost in self-esteem, thus perpetuating their mind-numbingly obvious lack of self criticism. They visualise themselves as being revolutionary teachers and thought leaders. Unfortunately, here is a place where thoughts might lead to real events because they then COMMUNICATE their bad ideas to others who follow through by ACTIONS they take in the real world- like not vaccinating or subjecting children to worthless or dangerous ‘therapies’ and diets.

    I liike to think that those who haven’t a glimmer about how the mind/ brain/memory/development/personality/interaction work, behave like those ancient European cartographers who filled in the blanks with *Here be Dragons* except that TMR fills it with the Magick that they call Science and Philosophy.

  9. #9 Nash
    UK
    August 17, 2012

    re johnV comment

    Nash thinks very hard, nope, still 6 inches

  10. #10 Darwy
    Røde grøde med fløde
    August 17, 2012

    Send her to the next TAM and have her take the challenge.

  11. #11 Denice Walter
    August 17, 2012

    @ johnV:

    I understand that amongst the hipsters you’re fine as you are.

    @ Nash:

    Did you ever think that perhaps having much more might frighten away potential partners?

  12. #12 Mrs Woo
    August 17, 2012

    Wow. So if I think about running two miles per day at a brisk pace, I can still develop the same physique as I would have if I did it? Or was the 22% increase not from original measure or 22% of the same benefit as doing it? If everything she says is true, this means all I really have to do is imagine running eight miles every day instead of the two and I get as many benefits. It might take me a bit longer, but building all that lean mass should also increase my metabolism, etc….

    Somehow I have to wonder exactly how good that study was and how they managed confounding factors (like more effort by the participants on the second test).

    Wow. I just have to think it and it is real. I am the same physical shape and health I was at 24…

  13. #13 Roger
    August 17, 2012

    The queen is 14? Apparently all this positive thinking impairs one’s ability to count.

  14. #14 Denice Walter
    August 17, 2012

    @ Mrs Woo:

    Although there might be a tiny grain of truth in the value of imagining physical exercise…

    Whenever I don’t play tennis for several days, I play *shadow* tennis at homne without a racquet, going through the motions, working on form and footwork. I THINK about what strategies I’ll use when I’ll next play: a different story entirely.

    When my friend- who destroyed her knee and got a new one- was recovering, she had standard physiotherapy and then, tennis instructors she knows gave her a series of exercises to do before she ever picked up a racquet or stepped onto a court. I guess she could have just sat in a chair, *imagined* tennis and have saved all of that time and effort.
    If only.

    An instructor notes that if you don’t play for 2 weeks ( say, because you have the flu), you’re an absolute wreck. Guess he’s not informed.

  15. #15 rob johnson
    seattle
    August 17, 2012

    did you really just spend an entire blog “refuting” the magical thinking of some idiot on the internet? I want my two minutes back.

  16. #16 DisasterChick
    United States
    August 17, 2012

    I couldn’t help but notice how much today’s XKCD cartoon applies to many of your posts about woo
    “contains a clinically-studied ingredient”
    http://xkcd.com/1096/

  17. #17 Elf M. Sternberg
    United States
    August 17, 2012

    I hate the whole willpower thing. I especially hate “The Secret.” I have a friend who’s really big on it. She insisted that if you wanted something badly enough, it would eventually come to you. I said, “I’m pretty sure those kids in Ethiopia want food pretty badly.”

  18. #18 Sastra
    August 17, 2012

    “Spiritual” people are always searching for “connections,” causal chains which take place on a hidden level of intent and meaning, bypassing the need for physical relationship. Everything happens for a reason — a moral, social, psychological reason, that is. They’re working from what I like to call the Playpen Theory of Reality: we’re all just babies in a universe in which every item and event has been lovingly placed to help us learn, grow, and come to the realization that we ought to be properly aware of all those deep, underlying connections.

    Religion relies on superficial thought processes. That’s where you find the easy slide from the True but Trivial to the Extraordinary but False. Dennett termed such exquisite confusions “deepities.” We can control what happens to us through the powers of our intentions. That either makes sense — or doesn’t — depending on the interpretation. A mindset looking for hidden conections will view both interpretations as conected. .. and thus interchangeable.

    There are a lot of ways to define “God.” It seems to me that a universe grounded in moral intentions and vitalistic teleology is one of them. The Playpen Theory of Reality is knit up with a Caring and Concerned Cosmos. That’s supernaturalism, and that’s religion. Alternative medicine ultimately requires an alternative belief system.

  19. #19 Narad
    August 17, 2012

    “Spiritual” people are always searching for “connections,” causal chains which take place on a hidden level of intent and meaning, bypassing the need for physical relationship.

    Who doesn’t like a good case of ideas of reference?

  20. #20 Edith Prickly
    on my high horse
    August 17, 2012

    @Denice

    Orac writes about *la Principessa*’s privileged status but here she is amongst a horde of the much entitled because they believe that being a mother gives you special insight into the workings of a child’s brain or personality that we commoners ( non-mothers) can’t possibly fathom.

    I have a child and that attitude annoys the hell out of me too – becoming a mother does not give anyone frickin’ superpowers, FFS. I like to think I have a pretty good handle on my own kid’s personality and moods, but I don’t imagine for a second that my “expertise” trumps everyone else’s, especially when it comes to medical or developmental problems. I pity the children who are stuck with this type of delusional narcissist for a mother.

  21. #21 Mrs Woo
    August 17, 2012

    @Denice – I attempted to put another comment afterwards in case people thought I might be taking seriously, but WordPress slapped my fingers for posting too quickly and I never got back to it.

    If we could only will ourselves thin, I’m sure the US would not have the weight problem it does.

  22. #22 Beamup
    August 17, 2012

    @ Elf:

    “Well, I mean It’s not really for them it’s for like, if you want a car.”

  23. #23 JGC
    August 17, 2012

    If wanting something badly enough was enough to cause it to happen to you, no teen boy would remain a virgin much past the age of 13.

  24. #24 ArtK
    Watching the left hand, not the right
    August 17, 2012

    As soon as we finished, one of my classmates yelled out to the trainer, “Please don’t call the jack of hearts next!” In an instant, because of all my work playing with my attitudes and beliefs, I instinctively readied myself for the jack of hearts. Despite the entire deck of cards having been well shuffled, sure enough, the jack of hearts it was! To my delight, I smiled and annihilated each of those 13 box jumps.

    Of course the trainer would never stoop to using sleight-of-hand to get the maximum effort out of his students. Naw, never, ever happens.

    Woo + trust for authority – Occam’s Razor = idiot.

  25. #25 Redloh
    August 17, 2012

    OMG, my adopted son’s brain was damaged by the alcohol consumption of his birthmother. Don’t think I didn’t imagine, obsess, or constantly will an improvement in his behavior and learning ability. In fact I used to fantasize about the genie in the bottle granting me 3 wishes and then try to formulate just the right words to wish him and everyone damaged in that way to be healed.

    We’ve made progress but only through hard work and constant repetition. Until someone figures out how to repair damaged brain matter, he will always struggled through life.

  26. #26 Composer99
    August 17, 2012

    rob:

    Did you really just make me spend 30 seconds reading your whine about Orac’s post?

    I want my 30 seconds back.
    —————

    Posts such as Princess’ at TMR offer a stark reminder of the difference between the kind of wishy-washy, feel-good thinking underlying so much alt-med and other pseudoscience and the motivations behind, say, abolitionists in the 18th and 19th centuries, Martin Luther King Jr in the 50s and 60s, and people (motivated by both secular and religious sentiment) who operate and volunteer in shelters (for the homeless, for battered women/children, &c) and the like down to the present day.

  27. #27 Dangerous Bacon
    August 17, 2012

    In news involving another altie religion, there’s heartbreak for a celebrity antivaxer:

    h_tp://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20621646,00.html

    I hope I haven’t ruined anyone’s weekend. :(

  28. #28 Peebs
    I'm pink. Therefore I'm Spam.
    August 17, 2012

    I wanted a bike when I was a child.

    I prayed and prayed to god on every possible occasion.

    I then had the Revelation. God doesn’t work like that.

    So I stole one and prayed for forgiveness.

  29. #29 JustaTech
    August 17, 2012

    Here’s a simple way to refute “the Secret”: anyone who has ever died in combat. I’m pretty damn sure that there was a lot of “not me, not me, not me” in the trenches of WWI, and guess what? Lots of them still died. And I can’t help but think that those soldiers were wishing with everything that the bomb wouldn’t hit them, so it would be insane to say that they “didn’t really want to not get hit by that bomb”.

    Want something and work hard for it != want something and do nothing for it.

  30. #30 Denice Walter
    August 17, 2012

    Peebs** demonstrates a child’s discovery of personal ‘agency': he’s an actor who determines events.

    I’ve always been fascinated by people’s understanding of causality and how much they attribute circumstances as being under their own control or not: this is a much studied area and has applications in therapy and education. ( Volumes upon volumes on this stuff).

    If a person believes in a deity, prayer can be a means to finagle a slice of that being’s omnipotence- a sort of surrogate action or a request to an actor in the great beyond to pull the necessary strings for you- but you need to get the ball rolling yourself first- thus, you’re not entirely powerless.

    What Princess describes seems to cut out the middle-man: she requests, the world complies. It sounds like what Freud called *His Majesty* the infant.

    Eventually, kids learn that they have to ACT upon the world to ( sometimes) succeed in attaining their wishes. ‘Agency’ includes effort or work that is personally controllable. Sometimes they might believe that their efforts are useless or insufficient and give up trying ( helplessness). Others may believe that un-related actions will get the job done: this is superstitious action. Wishing without action ( where action is realistic) is as superstitious as the pigeons who kept turning in circles because that was what they were doing when the random feeding occured ( their action was unrelated to the feeding).

    Somewhere Princess’s internal schematic that details wish-plan-act-achieve has a short circuit.

    ** despite being pink. I am -btw- ivory.

  31. #31 Alain (aka Autistic Lurker)
    August 17, 2012

    offtopic: my new blog post has a call for papers in the neuroimaging of learning, regardless of the condition or the subject type.

    http://www.securivm.ca/2012/08/free-science-call-for-papers-science.html

    Alain

  32. #32 Peebs
    August 17, 2012

    Denice, we are all pink on the inside.

    Therefore we are all spam.

  33. #33 Sir Bedevere
    August 17, 2012

    I’ve been hoping you’d post something on this topic because it’s something I’ve noticed amongst alt-med and anti-vax types for some time. They seem to believe that in a conflict between, for example, a virus and your immune system, all you have to do is let nature take its course and everything will be fine. They can’t understand that nature has absolutely no inherent reason to favor your immune system over the virus. Whether the virus is eradicated from your system or whether you die and become worm food; nature has no preference for either outcome.

  34. #34 Denice Walter
    August 17, 2012

    @ Peebs:

    That is b!tching profound!
    And here I was thinking that we are all made of stars.

  35. #35 Peebs
    August 17, 2012

    No, we are all in the gutter, looking at the stars.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist the Oscar quote.

    Anyway, you may not be spam.

    You’re sugar and spice according to the Searchers.

  36. #36 johnV
    August 17, 2012

    @Denice

    If it makes me fit in with the hipsters, then I’ll think extra hard about regrowing hair.

  37. #37 Narad
    August 17, 2012

    If it makes me fit in with the hipsters, then I’ll think extra hard about regrowing hair.

    Without extreme mental discipline, it’s just going to come out of your nose and ears.

  38. #38 Denice Walter
    August 17, 2012

    @ johnV:

    Don’t knock the hipsters! They are a necessary evil because they reflect their times and enable us to dis-entangle ourselves from our own entrenched viewpoint based in the past when we came of age. And for some odd reason, they seem to like yours truly. Having 20-somethings ask for your advice and seeking your approval is infinitely superior to having children that age who would probably just be asking for money.

    @ Peebs: whatever made you think I’d like Oscar?

  39. #39 Peebs
    August 17, 2012

    Denice,

    I’d love to give you a deep metaphysical and profound answer.

    Unfortunately, I just picked up on your mention of the Stars.

    Please, please don’t ask about the picture in my attic.

  40. #40 Denice Walter
    August 17, 2012

    I won’t as long as you don’t ask what I Ieft in a bag at Victoria Station.

  41. #41 Soapy
    August 17, 2012

    >>>YOU have the power to help your child heal…<<<

    I wonder if Princess understands just how insulting this is to the thousands of parents who've sat by their children's deathbeds begging the universe to let their child live. Does she really think those parents didn't think the right thoughts?

  42. #42 Narad
    August 18, 2012

    I won’t as long as you don’t ask what I Ieft in a bag at Victoria Station.

    I’m going to pretend that this is a Rita Tushingham reference if that’s OK with you.

  43. #43 herr doktor bimler
    August 18, 2012

    Umm, does it count if you are in the gutter looking up skirts?
    Asking for a friend.

  44. #44 TBruce
    goofing off someplace
    August 18, 2012

    @Dangerous Bacon:

    I wonder if she got a tetanus booster?

  45. #45 Denice Walter
    August 18, 2012

    @ TBruce:

    Believe it or not, there were 2 anti-vax tales of woe this past week:
    Jenny and her beau- a professional athlete- split.
    Mayim Bialik had an auto accident, suffered severe lacerations to her thumb and finger. She was treated at a ( gasp!) hospital so she won’t lose them, she tweeted happily.
    A few months ago, AJW’s wife was in a serious accident.
    Is the Universe trying to tell them something?**

    @ Narad:

    It’s Oscar Wilde: a character reveals that she left a baby in a travelling case at the station many years ago and another reveals his own heritage.* Voila!*
    My ex is a great fan of Ms Tushingham’s films
    .
    -btw- on a more personal note, were you by any chance adopted as an infant in November 1983?

    ** sarcasm

  46. #46 Narad
    August 18, 2012

    -btw- on a more personal note, were you by any chance adopted as an infant in November 1983?

    Plus or minus a couple hundred months.

  47. #47 Peebs
    August 18, 2012

    Are you sure it was a travelling case and not (Altogether now!).
    “A HANDBAG?”

    Or am I thinking of a different play? It’s a few years since I read the Works of Big, Butch, Bearded, Bonking Oscar.

  48. #48 ArtK
    A dark alley with $10 bills hanging out of my pockets
    August 18, 2012

    I think Bill Cosby explained perfectly why “The Secret” and prayer 100% successful. In his routine “Karate” he talks about breaking bricks and rocks. To do that you have to “think through the brick.” Mind-over-matter stuff. Unfortunately, the brick was thinking “oh, no you don’t.”

    If you don’t get what you wish for, it just means that someone, somewhere is wishing “no” a little bit harder than you are wishing “yes.”

  49. #49 Denice Walter
    August 18, 2012

    @ Peebs:

    I was recalling ‘carpet bag’ ( which might be from seeing the play) but thought that ‘travelling case’ had a nicer ring to it.,

    @ Narad:

    Whew! Actually, I’m disappointed but I suspect we’re at least third cousins.

  50. #50 Heliantus
    August 18, 2012

    @ Denice Walter

    Is the Universe trying to tell them something?

    It is my personal belief that of these occasions, the universe is telling you “don’t be at the wrong place in the wrong time.”
    However, the universe is not very good at handing you clues about which places and time to avoid beforehand.
    And sometimes there was never a real choice.

    Although a few occasions are quite straightforward. Like, when people discovered that you took some liberty with ethics and scientific rules. Mr Wakefield seems to have got these clues on time, mostly.

  51. #51 Denice Walter
    August 18, 2012

    @ Helianthus:

    I was being PURELY sarcastic : the anti-vax beliefs of these folks have nothing whatsoever to do with accidents and break-ups that they experience- I do feel a shred of sympathy for them. However, woo-folk , who often believe in karma/ divine justice, might make a statement about the *Universe* if say, a vaccine advocate was involved in an accident or break-upt.: I’m mocking that proclivity. Which I do.

    There’s a difference between *poetic justice* and AJW getting his just dessert.

    And now I must prepare myself for my soiree which like take place on a riverbank where they serve drinks. * Au revoir*

  52. #52 lilady
    August 18, 2012

    I love how three of the eleven posts back at the *princess* link to their own websites; one is a reiki master, another the author of a vaccine book and the third is this gem, which links to a MLM supplements company:

    Mary Cavanaugh says:
    August 15, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Princess,

    This just confirms what I’m learning from one of the companies that I’m involved with. We have no idea of the power we have within us. The closer I get to wellness the closer I get to God! I know I need to make my vision board:) Thanks for the reminder. I believe we have it within ourselves to heal our children and ourselves!

    http://www.max.com/products/us/en/overview

  53. #53 Ultra Venia
    August 18, 2012

    Lilady: I thought one of the plusses of wishing was you didn’t have to purchase anything to do so.

  54. #54 lilady
    August 18, 2012

    @ Ultra Venia: But, you do have to purchase magic supplements, and other *biomedical treatments* such as oral/IV chelation, intrathecal stem cell therapies in Costa Rica and Panama and MMS bleach to dose your child orally and rectally…to *recover* your autistic child:

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2008/12/26/the-price-of-antivaccination-fanaticism/

    Here, the lawyer/science teacher who subjected his daughter
    to abusive treatments to *recover her*, instructs us all on his *faith*:

    http://www.ageofautism.com/2011/07/when-i-can-do-nothing.html

  55. #55 Old Rockin' Dave
    August 18, 2012

    Anyone who has worked with cancer patients has heard some variation on this: “But I did everything right! I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke, I ate healthy, I exercised. So why did I get cancer?”
    My stock answer was “Maybe you just happened to be on the street corner when some cosmic ray from across the galaxy hit one of your cells in just the right spot. You can only reduce the risks you know about, but lots of things happen that you can’t predict or control, so don’t waste time thinking about it and don’t go looking to find blame.”
    Of course if there was a clear exposure history, I left that last part out.

  56. #56 Heliantus
    August 18, 2012

    @ Denise Walter

    My apologies if I sounded reproachful, I was merely adding to the sarcasm and building on the “sometimes it’s just dumb luck” topic.

    There’s a difference between *poetic justice* and AJW getting his just dessert.

    Oh yes. I assure you, I never thought you were implying otherwise. I understood your sentence as “maybe the universe is trying to tell them that mainstream medicine has its uses”.
    For all the bad opinion I have of Wakefield, I don’t wish him any ill like a car accident. It’s preposterous and serves no purpose. And even less for the accident to involve his wife, as it was here I believe.
    I may sometimes err in hoping in poetic justice, but blind fate smiting a relative of the culprit is not my idea of “justice”. Family vendetta and other “honor crimes” are in my opinion the stupidest things human civilizations invented.

  57. #57 flip
    August 18, 2012

    And this is why I was confused on another thread in regards to New Agers being more into woo than say, Buddhists. Because the woomeisters really do love the idea of karma.

    … Is Princess actually saying that neuroplasticity in one’s own brain causes changes in another?

  58. #58 Narad
    August 18, 2012

    Because the woomeisters really do love the idea of karma.

    It’s highly unlikely that anyone who uses the term ‘karma’ without careful qualification has the slightest idea what it means.

  59. #59 Denice Walter
    August 18, 2012

    @ flip:

    I think that she’s out of her gourd… like other woo-mavens, she displays her own brand of magical thinking which she decorates with terminology from physio and tart up with philosophers’ quotes. She believes that her thoughts have power to change external reality *sans* actions or suchlike. This is far beyond the range of normalcy if it’s indeed true and not merely rhetoric to impress others.

    At any rate, I write about TMR because they encourage other parents to doubt SBM, to try useless or dangerous alt med remedies/ therapies and congratulate others who behave in a similar fashion. For an example, today’s post illustrates some of the supplement and dietary regimes near and dear to their confused little hearts. They force a load of supplements and odd foods on kids who may be very sensitive. A recent post obsessed about parasites.

    As sceptics, we should always be on the lookout for irrational and un-realistic quackery being promulgated to susceptible audiences. If the guinea pigs in their mad game of experimentaion are disabled children, the our alarm bells should go off even more.

  60. #60 mw
    August 19, 2012

    The other resemblance between alt-med and religion is the believer’s violent rage when his claims are contradicted. To see this, try telling your hippie neighbor that his Chinese fungus drink is worthless.

  61. #61 Narad
    August 19, 2012

    To see this, try telling your hippie neighbor that his Chinese fungus drink is worthless.

    It may not have any health benefits, but it’s an interesting entry in the annals of brewing.

  62. #62 Dangerous Bacon
    August 19, 2012

    “The other resemblance between alt-med and religion is the believer’s violent rage when his claims are contradicted.”

    After many years of interacting with alt med people online, I’ve found that the characteristics that overwhelmingly define alties are ignorance, confusion and hostility.

  63. #63 Denice Walter
    August 19, 2012

    @ Dangerous Bacon:

    How about grandiosity and over-estimation of their own abilities/ education *vis-a-vis* that of others? And they never met a conspiracy that they didn’t like.

  64. #64 Pareidolius
    Can No Longer Find My Chopra glasses . . .
    August 19, 2012

    Sastra FTW, as usual. Would you please write a book on . . . well, anything? Oh, and Walters, how are those memoirs coming? I have several cover ideas.

  65. #65 Pareidolius
    Sheepishly Scuttling Away
    August 19, 2012

    Walter. Denise WaltTER. No ess.

  66. #66 Denice Walter
    August 19, 2012

    @ Pareidolius:

    Darling one: not that I mind but there is no *ess* ! : the first name is an anglicisation, not just the old, run-of-the-mill, add-an-E, feminine of *Denis* ( nor are there any *esses* in the other two names- both of which are too sickeningly posh to be mentioned ). My family has a ridiculous legend that has led to many Franglaise/ anglicised French names over the centuries: seems that there were ‘Norman’ ancestors ( more likely some guy named “Norman” who slept around).

    My Irish friend would like me to write up some things I’ve told her, make all the principal characters Irish and sell it to Irish television – I don’t really want to do that plus I think I might get sued. I am already worried about that because of my sceptical activities and walk on egg shells as it is.

    Be that as it may- I am hopeful that my contributions provide a tiny bit of entertainment as they illustrate other points. Everything has more than one purpose, you see. And there is a plan that is as un-obvious as I can make it.

    Cover art? Please. Although I do look like a 40-something Saorise Ronan. Or so I’ve been told.

  67. #67 Alain (aka Autistic Lurker)
    August 19, 2012

    I give up, I won’t beat a dead horse at AoA who keep thinking it’s the vaccines and we (myself included[1]) are not doing research to fix us instead of doing useful research to help accomodate us, quote below:

    But it would be a sin for these researchers to skip off happily touting 40% faster, without every stopping to consider the physical reasons why their autistic subjects’ brains aren’t functioning properly

    source: http://www.ageofautism.com/2012/08/report-insel-should-be-fired-from-autism-research-panel.html?cid=6a00d8357f3f2969e201774435f7b3970d#comment-6a00d8357f3f2969e201774435f7b3970d

    Alain
    [1] == I worked in that lab but not on that particular study.

  68. #68 elburto
    August 19, 2012

    Nope. Still crippled.

    Oh well…

  69. #69 Dangerous Bacon
    August 19, 2012

    It seems that Ebay agrees that at least one form of alternative healing is religion.

    They have now prohibited the listing of various sorts of spells, prayers and magic, including one favorite alt med practice:

    “The online auction / storefront site has banned the following items: “advice; spells; curses; hexing; conjuring; magic services; prayers; blessings; Psychic, Tarot, _Reiki_, and other metaphysical readings & services; magic potions; healing sessions.”

    h_tp://www.examiner.com/article/the-magic-leaves-ebay-as-site-bans-all-manner-of-magic

    Gawd, I hope they don’t go after chiropractic next.

  70. #70 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    August 19, 2012

    Yeah, Mike Adams was freaking out about that earlier today. Freedom’s being squelched, etc.

  71. #71 Marc Stephens Is Insane
    August 19, 2012

    Ignore my comment above–Adams was ranting about Google Shopping and vitamins, not eBay. My apologies.

  72. #72 Narad
    August 19, 2012

    Gawd, I hope they don’t go after chiropractic next.

    I’d love to see how the legal department vetted this. Will St. Christopher medals require a disclaimer?

  73. #73 Denice Walter
    August 19, 2012

    @ Marc Stephes Is Insane:

    Mike Adams, as idiotic and transparent as he is, is actually part of a great effort by alt med/ natural health entrepreneurs to present themselves as the equals of SBM providers: to get their practitioners accepted/ re-inbursed by government-supplied health care, to over-rule efforts to regulate supplements/ practitioners and to be perceived as harbingers of a new era in science by the public.

    There is a huge legal and lobbying effort by people like him ( and the other usual suspects, who maintain teams of legal experts) as well as groups like the ANH which has affiliates all over the globe and educates alties on how to go about this transformation. Anti-vaccine advocates work along similar lines: it’s interesting to note how many of the people who present at health freedom/ anti-vaccine conventions or are guests on altie internet radio/ TV shows are lawyers. Brave maverick AJW’s foray into anti-medicine was initiated by legal manoeuvring.

    Notice that I do not quibble about national borders or specific loci because this nonsense goes far beyond them. In an era of spending cuts in N. America and Europe perhaps health freedom sounds reasonable – and relatively in-expensive ( compared to SBM) to certain parties.

    This crap isn’t going away. Expect it to creep into any crevice laws allow.

  74. #74 Shay
    still in training to be tall and blonde
    August 19, 2012

    Denice: it absolutely boggles the mind that anyone would think “altmed is cheaper” is a selling point.

  75. #75 Renate
    August 20, 2012

    Well I suppose since some people think health is a free market, cheap is a selling-point for those who want to keep healthcare cheap.

  76. [...] More importantly, if there’s anyone who personifies the similarities between alternative medicine and religion, it’s Deepak Chopra, with his “universal consciousness” (i.e., yet another name [...]

  77. #77 herr doktor bimler
    August 20, 2012

    Alternative medicine and religion do seem to fit together well
    (via ERV).

  78. #78 THS
    quiet evening
    August 21, 2012

    Alt-med cheaper? It could be done for free and the cost will be enormous. But I’m belaboring the obvious.
    Now then, back to making the Secret work…
    It will surely be manifest when non-believers on the planet are eliminated.

  79. #79 Militant Agnostic
    Deep Cover infiltrating a Wasabi terrorist cell
    August 21, 2012

    From Herr Doktor Bimmler’s link

    The church, on Hyde Road, opened last year and is the first northern base of the VPA, which has three other churches in Hackney, Luton and Barking.

    I presume that would be Barking Mad.

  80. [...] attitude, and thoughts. It’s not for nothing that I have likened alternative medicine to religion or the New Age woo that is The Secret, and these authors simply reinforce that view. First up is [...]

  81. #81 Sunil
    Los Angeles
    August 24, 2012

    A not very well thought out article.

  82. [...] belief (although in a way, I might beg to differ somewhat given how antivaccinationism, like alternative medicine, shares a lot of non-science-based aspects of [...]

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