Questionable Motives

June 16, 2011

What’s the harm?

Filed under: Critical Reasoning,faith-based beliefs,Skepticim,woo — tildeb @ 1:33 pm

This is probably the most oft repeated question in response to criticisms of faith-based beliefs like religion, complimentary and alternative ‘medicine’, anti-vaccination position, various superstitions and pseudosciences, conspiracy theories, anti-anthropomorphic global warming, evolution denialism, astrology, and so on. An answer with specific causal harm would be very helpful, wouldn’t it?

To the rescue of the reasonable, rational, and critical thinkers comes this wonderful website What’s the Harm? It’s sub-header today reads 368,379 people killed, 306,096 injured and over $2,815,931,000 in economic damages . That grabbed my attention so I delved a little deeper to find out what the site was all about:

Not all information is created equal. Some of it is correct. Some of it is incorrect. Some of it is carefully balanced. Some of it is heavily biased. Some of it is just plain crazy.

It is vital in the midst of this deluge that each of us be able to sort through all of this, keeping the useful information and discarding the rest. This requires the skill of critical thinking. Unfortunately, this is a skill that is often neglected in schools.

This site is designed to make a point about the danger of not thinking critically. Namely that you can easily be injured or killed by neglecting this important skill. We have collected the stories of over 670,000 people who have been injured or killed as a result of someone not thinking critically.

We do this not to make light of their plight. Quite the opposite. We want to honor their memory and learn from their stories.

We also wish to call attention to the types of misinformation which have caused this sort of harm. On the topics page you will see a number of popular topics that that are being promoted via misinformation. Many of them have no basis in truth at all. A few are based in reality, but veer off into troublesome areas. We all need to think more critically about these topics, and take great care when we encounter them.

Many proponents of these things will claim they are harmless. We aim to show that they are decidedly not.

Isn’t that music to the sceptical ear? Yes, but one must remember that these are real people whose stories can mean something if we just pay attention and learn from them.

For example, take the case of Debra Harrison from Wichita, Kansas. She was the founder of Consegrity, a form of energy medicine and faith healing. She rejected medical treatment for herself or her family and died of undiagnosed diabetes.

How about 1100 patients in Montreal who found out the acupuncture needles used on them weren’t properly sterilized and had to get HIV and hepatitis testing?

Or have you ever been warned the all too common result of tinnitus from ear candles?

Informed consent is a key ingredient to granting knowledgeable permission. Our ability to do so in the face of the onslaught of woo brought to us by various public figures such as Dr Oz and Deepak Chopra means we need to do a little more mental work, use a little more critical thinking, exercise a little more our scepticism even when we would prefer to simply believe. Such a site as What’s the Harm makes that job just a little bit easier. I noticed some of the links are broken and suggest that even these stories may also be in need of some scepticism if the evidence for their veracity is lacking. After all, we must be fair and remember the old adage is just as applicable today: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

(h/t to Steven Novella over at  NeuroLogica Blog)


  1. I see no problem with more critical thinking, namely when it comes to ones health. I don’t mind some of these alternative forms of medicine, again they should be used with full knowledge of what you are and aren’t signing up for (for the record I don’t use any of these things – because I don’t like people touching me).

    I like the idea that things should be looked at more critically – full support here.

    Comment by SocietyVs — June 16, 2011 @ 3:29 pm | Reply

  2. Transition Town Peterborough is concerned about the fluoridation of Peterborough’s water supply. I have been invited to a meeting to see a short film of Dr Stanley Monteith’s Fluoride Deception talk. I am not concerned about fluoride in the water supply, but I may attend the meeting to practise my critical thinking skills and evaluate Transition Town Peterborough’s argument.

    Comment by Veronica Abbass — June 18, 2011 @ 8:21 am | Reply

    • Have a good time, Veronica. This is certainly going around Ontario these days.

      On this webcast I hear Monteith saying (at 5:27) that when we compare children’s tooth decay between cities where on uses fluoridation and one does, we find no difference. Yet consider this from Quackwatch:

      One such test was conducted in the neighboring cities of Newburgh and Kingston, New York. First, the children in both cities were examined by dentists and physicians; then fluoride was added to Newburgh’s water supply. After ten years, the children of Newburgh had 58% fewer decayed teeth than those of nonfluoridated Kingston. The greatest benefits were obtained by children who had drunk the fluoridated water since birth. Other studies showed that teeth made stronger by fluoride during childhood would remain permanently resistant to decay. As the evidence supporting fluoridation accrued, thousands of communities acted to obtain its benefits.

      Although recent studies show less difference than there used to be in decay rates between fluoridated and nonfluoridated communities, the benefit is still substantial. In fact, the Public Health Service estimates that every dollar spent for community fluoridation saves about fifty dollars in dental bills.

      As a public health measure, fluoridation is unusual in several ways. It is a copy of a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is supported by libraries full of articles that document its safety and effectiveness—more so than any other public health measure. It is supported by a variety of health, scientific, and civic groups that could hardly be expected to agree on any other single measure. But most significant, it is the only health measure that is often put to public vote.

      Monteith follows the standard scaremongering where he attributes all kinds of problems with fluoridation. He says all this is backed up by ‘studies’ that show non-fluoridation people have lower rates of cancer, infertility, ADD, ADHD, Asbergers, autism, and higher scholastic marks, a higher age for menses, and so on. And that’s why we should get rid of fluoridation. He never quotes these studies nor offers them up for review. And he explains that we don’t hear about this because of a media control conspiracy. He also says the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) ‘scientists are “pleading” to stop fluoridation. Again, no source. And so on. He doesn’t explain that water fluoridation to be effective yet safe is one part per million but goes on for a long while telling us how fluoride in high concentration causes all kinds of problems and then says “this” is what we putting in our water. But the truth is that this is NOT what we’re putting in our water.

      As for the reasons why Monteith believes what he does is all about military-industrial complex conspiracies to ‘control’ populations and create a new world order. But don’t take my word for it, of course: listen to him. He, like so many other believers, has not been fooled. After all, he is armed with The Truth (TM).

      Good grief.

      Comment by tildeb — June 18, 2011 @ 1:08 pm | Reply

  3. Re: “the onslaught of woo brought to us by various public figures such as Dr Oz and Deepak Chopra ”

    Oh no, not this Deepak Chopra?

    Comment by Veronica Abbass — June 18, 2011 @ 8:29 am | Reply

  4. For a site that loves to shun “woo” by preaching critical thinking, they betray the “critical thinker’s” cardinal rule, that “Correlation does not imply causation” and use a plethora of anecdotal connections to make their case against said “woo” so often I lost count in ten minutes of skimming. I guess those rules only apply to the other side of the fence, because of the burden of proof is on them, right? Nah, that’s no excuse to preach critical thinking without actually demonstrating critical thinking.

    Comment by will0s — August 22, 2016 @ 5:44 am | Reply

    • Who is ‘they’? Yes, correlation does does equal causation, but can indicate a connection. That’s why the robustness of a correlation matters.

      Comment by tildeb — August 22, 2016 @ 7:55 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: