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)