Questionable Motives

November 14, 2014

Life or culture? Which is the greater civil right?

Filed under: aboriginal culture,Healthcare,Medicine,woo — tildeb @ 6:11 pm

So which is the more important right for the judiciary to uphold if a choice must be made?

Well, in Canada, it seems a befuddled judge thinks a constitutional right to ‘practice’ one’s culture supersedes the state’s right to protect a citizen’s life from a parent’s belief in the efficacy derived from exercising Oogity Boogity rather than evidence-adduced efficacious medicine.

In a recent court decision: a Ontario judge said,

I cannot find that J.J. is a child in need of protection when her substitute decision-maker has chosen to exercise her constitutionally protected right to pursue their traditional medicine over the Applicant’s stated course of treatment of chemotherapy.

Right, because efficacious medical treatment is apparently and magically a cultural expression all of a sudden… and a substitute medical decision maker can now legitimately pick which one to apply to (what, suddenly cultural?) disease processes and still be consider a responsible adult (and not simply bat-shit crazy with belief in woo) in the eyes of the law.

The local health team who had begun real medical treatment of a treatable disease process had asked the local Children’s Aid Society to take guardianship over the child (a practice often done when the parents of an ill child deny simple blood transfusions on the basis of contrary religious belief) when the mother of the child insisted that her aboriginal rights to do whatever she wanted to do to the child trumped any rights the child had to efficacious medical treatment. The judge agreed, saying these beliefs of the mother’s were “integral” to the family’s way of life, so the ruling was to allow her to choose traditional medicine for her daughter.

In this sense, the right to impose ‘traditional medicine’ on a dependent child over and above real medicine (with an efficacy of over 90%) means death. And this is what the court is trying to tell us is a ‘constitutional’ right.


Culture does not trump civil rights, and the most fundamental civil right any of us has is the right not to be killed to suit the faith-based ignorant and harmful beliefs of a parent who wishes to impose it on their dependents. This is already well established jurisprudence and this judge missed the point entirely… so busy trying to be ‘tolerant’ and ‘politically correct’ and ‘culturally sensitive’ as to elevate cultural beliefs to be superior to fundamental civil rights.

This is a really bad court decision in general that sets a terrible precedence that will be abused under the guise of ‘cultural expressions’ and particularly for the girl involved. In her case, this decision is a death sentence.


March 30, 2014

Why should religion be kept out of healthcare?

facepalmBecause it has nothing to do with providing best practices healthcare and everything to do with promoting its theology! And the problem becomes obvious when authority for healthcare decisions must pass through religious leadership that determines – based on theology and not medicine – if best practices ALIGNS with its dogma.

This is Crazytown.

Welcome to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, a town of about 35,000 people who have one hospital called the Jane Phillips Medical Center. That hospital is part of Ascension Health, a large Catholic health care consortium.

Yeah, so what?

Well, in order to do their jobs, local obstetricians and gynecologists need to maintain privileges there.


In order to maintain privileges, a doctor must meet the hospital’s POLICIES.

Sounds reasonable, right, because healthcare policies should be informed by best practices, right?


Catholic hospitals determine their polices based on Catholic doctrine first and foremost. Medical ethics are subject to this doctrine.

Are you beginning to grasp how concern about an incompatibility between religious belief and science-based treatment might arise?

Stick with me here.

What happens when Catholic doctrine stands contrary to some science-based medical service like… let’s say… oh, I don’t know… there are so many to choose from… birth control. Let’s return to Bartlesville/Crazytown and find out together, shall we?

Here is where the rubber of medical service providers meets the road of Catholic doctrine: local OB-GYN doctors who wish to maintain privileges at the one hospital can no longer prescribe birth control for birth control because it’s contrary to Catholic doctrine.

a meeting was held Wednesday to inform local doctors of gynecology and obstetrics that they can no longer prescribe contraceptives of any kind — if they are to be used as birth control. – See more at:

Who determines what healthcare services best fits the needs of patients and on what grounds: medical practitioners with advanced medical training or a group of celibate men in dresses and funny hats who pretend they can turn wine into blood and crackers into flesh by mumbling some Latin?

You are not surprised to find out that the authority – the right and god-sanctioned ethical authority – just so happens to be the group of celibate men… who require no medical expertise whatsoever who are on the basis of their religious authority better able to determine what constitutes the right medical services to provide. The specific patient’s welfare isn’t worth shit; maintaining the Church’s ethical standards are paramount, and local OB-GYNs are turned into their accomplices.

And some people are so militant, so strident, so hateful as to suggest that this hierarchy is intolerable in the public domain where there really is compelling evidence that religious belief when imposed on others is fundamentally incompatible with exercising individual autonomy to hold evidence-based science, its products, and its medical practitioners in higher esteem than religious shepherds s leading flocks of willing religious sheep. We are to vilify those who complain about this religious interference in the public domain to be superior to those who are educated and highly trained people in certain practices. After all, they must immoral because that’s what religious leadership tells us so it must be true. This is equivalent to plumbers and their expertise subject to oversight by those who think pipes can be cleared of problems caused by evil spirits through exorcism. If you have a plumbing problem, this kind of authority suddenly  becomes your concern when the plumber you must hire is obligated to not fix it for religious reasons.

The ongoing incompatibility between faith-based and science-adduced practices is so obvious, so ludicrous, so ethically screwed up, that its a mystery anyone with two neurons to rub together might think this hierarchy for determining services is in any way reasonable. It’s not; the truly delusional inmates are running the asylum… or, in this case, the hospital and its medical services.

August 26, 2013

Why is accommodating respect for faith-based beliefs stupid and irresponsible?

medical treatmentOver at  Jerry Coyne’s site, Why Evolution is True, he posted about a measles outbreak in Texas traced back to a mega-church and non vaccinated children.  Coyne titled his post, “Measles back again, thanks to religion,” and gave us information about the outbreak, the response from church authorities and its ‘medical’ team, and data on the disease, all very useful stuff (as usual). But I disagreed in one sense that the measles outbreak was due to religion. It was just as much back because of those who accommodate faith-based beliefs of any kind and smugly attack New Atheists for daring to criticize any of it publicly. This is what I wrote in my ridiculously long comment:

I apologize for the length of my comment, but this post highlights that the ‘enemy’ of reason and knowledge isn’t just religion per se but those who support and tolerate a methodology that is clearly broken, namely, the empowerment and public acceptance of any faith-based belief (an acceptance demonstrated by offering unjustified respect rather than justified criticism of those who exercise any faith-based belief. I’m talking to you, accommodationists).

Into the category of faith-based beliefs can be everything from religion to anti-vaccination, conspiracies to astrology, alternative medicine to Winfrey/Chopra/Dr. Oz-ian woo. Belief in these is all of a kind, and the root is faith- rather than evidence-based belief… a method of thinking that elevates possibility to be equivalent to probability, meaning that it’s a way to elevate any belief in something to be the same weight in consideration as not having belief in it. In other words, it’s a way to make any faith-based belief seem as reasonable as not believing… one either believes in alien abductions, for example, (by entertaining the possibility) or one does not (by seeming to be closed-minded when there is no compelling evidence in its favour). See? Equivalent: six of one, a half dozen of the other. How very reasonable and open-minded we are and not followers of scientism like those intolerant, strident, and militant folk who are Doin’ it Rong!

What’s lost, of course, is any meaningful way, a methodology we can trust, to allow reality to arbitrate the faith-based belief because the weight of evidence (supporting or not supporting the belief) plays no important role; the equivalency is already clearly established by believers, which is why any possible evidence for the most ludicrous of beliefs is drafted into service and used as if equivalent to the array of evidence contrary to them combined with the absence of compelling evidence where it should be if the belief were true. In this sense, the use of evidence (aka, reality) by the faith-based believer is only used in service to the belief, whereas in every other area of life we know enough to allow our beliefs to be in the service of reality… if we wish to function successfully in it.

Any method of inquiry that refuses to allow reality to adjudicate claims made about it is a guaranteed way to fool one’s self. Believers in faith-based beliefs fool themselves (along with the tacit approval of accommodationists who decide the appearance of being tolerant of foolishness is a higher standard of intellectual integrity than respecting reality to inform our beliefs about it). But it doesn’t end here and this is the point accommodationsits fail to appreciate. A measles outbreak doesn’t just threaten those foolish enough not to vaccinate; it threatens both the non vaccinated AND the vaccinated with exposure to a preventable disease! This is unconscionable stupidity and social irresponsibility in the face of spreading a very real disease because of acting on a faith-based belief. As if believing in such faith-based foolishness weren’t bad enough, acting on this foolishness carries with it a demonstrable cost to all of us that causes real harm to real people in real life. Faced with this reality, I must ask: where did all these ‘reasonable’ accommodationists suddenly go? This is where the rubber meets the road of why respecting faith-based beliefs by anyone including accommodationists is a public threat to the health and welfare of us all.

June 13, 2012

Why are blasphemy laws an abortion of reason?

Because you have to abort any reason to be concerned about what is true in favour of showing greater concern for what is believed to be true.  Therein lies the definition of legal blasphemy: the offence of speaking sacrilegiously about god or sacred things; sacrilege meaning the violation or misuse of what is regarded as sacred; sacred meaning anything regarded with great respect and reverence; reverence meaning to regard or treat with deep respect. Blasphemy laws enforce (with the misuse of secular law) only what is regarded to be worthy of respect, namely, some belief claim. Whether or not the claim is true doesn’t matter, you see, so whatever reasons are brought forward also don’t matter. This is the rejection of reason, raising the question How do we know if some belief claim is worth respecting? Blasphemy laws circumvent the answer to this question as irrelevant.

But surely I jest! People are far too reasonable to go along with this absurdity, you must be thinking; the laws are intended to promote toleration and mutual respect for the belief of others, right?


The catholic church is a fairly large religious organization claiming over  a billion members globally. Surely it wouldn’t stoop to standing idly by while some bishop undertook this kind of legal abuse. But, right on cue, the mass producer and protector of pedophiles has shown that it too doesn’t care about what’s true (is anyone surprised… anyone?); it doesn’t mind that its agents use these laws to attack reason that stands contrary to whatever earns them cash and uses the secular branch of the judiciary to do this dirty work for it… to bludgeon what’s true into irrelevancy if it interferes with catholic aims and catholic beliefs and gaining money.

From the Friendly Atheist:


Indian TV channel (TV-9)asked the President of the Indian Rationalist Society to visit the Church of Our Lady of Velankanni in Vile Parle, Mumbai to offer his opinion on a supposed miracle. The President, Sanal Edamaruku, is like the Indian version of James Randi or Penn Jillette. He is well known in the country and has been debunking miracles for over 30 years.

The miracle in question involved the dripping of water from the feet of a statue of the crucifixion, a miracle that that seems to crop up all around the world… at least when pieces of toast with Jesus on them are in short supply.

Edamuruku was quickly able to pin the cause on a leaking drainage system, with water being drawn up through the nail holes in the statue’s feet by capillary action. Needless to say, the locals and the church were not happy.

Edamaruku accused the church of exploiting people for money, a tactic that did not go down well. Edamaruku later participated in a heated debate with the pastor of the church, Father Augustine Palett, on national TV. Father Palett had little time for actual debate and instead spent his time threatening action, by way of a blasphemy complaint, if Edamaruku refused to apologize. Edamaruku welcomed this, as it would be a chance to present his evidence in court with the priests and bishops on the witness stand. Of course, no apology was forthcoming and Palett has since made good on his threat.

Following the TV appearance, a group called The Association of Concerned Catholics (Think Bill Donohue, but Indian) lodged a complaint against him with the Mumbai police. They have now arrested him, charging him with “hurting the religious sentiments of a particular community.” This is a section in India’s penal code intended to prevent hate speech and should be used against deeply sectarian groups or individuals. The complaints against Edamaruku, however, are a grave misuse of these laws.

Edamaruku had applied for “anticipatory bail,” which would have meant he could have avoided jail during any trial. Bizarrely, this was rejected on the grounds that the judge thought jail would be the safest place for him.

Any democratic country with secular law cannot justify this poisonous intrusion of theocracy into its legal system. It’s an embarrassment to anyone who can think straight. Blasphemy laws must be removed if that country’s government doesn’t wish to advocate for the aborting of reason from its judicial system.

January 16, 2012

What’s the harm in believing vaccinations are too risky?

In 2002, the World Health Organization declared measles eradicated from the Americas. In 2011, 763 cases were reported in Canada’s province of Quebec – including 30 children and adults who had been previously vaccinated against the disease – with 89 requiring hospitalization. The cluster was centered in particular schools in Drummondville, with a student population of about 11,000. Some adults were incapacitated for over four months during their recovery and others recovered but with hearing loss. And all of this was preventible.

About 4% of the infected students who had been vaccinated in the outbreak schools contracted measles. Of those children who had not been vaccinated, about 82% contracted the disease which can disfigure and even kill. Of all the students, about 85% had been vaccinated but as we can see, once the vaccination rate falls below about 95% of all children, we start to lose the ‘herd’ immunity (where isolated cases of highly infectious disease do not spread) and all of us – vaccinated and not vaccinated – become endangered.

Why do parents opt their children out from receiving vaccinations? Well, because they would prefer to not run the risk of exposing their children to unnecessary harm from vaccinations. What is this risk? Fevers from the MMR shot (measles, mumps, and rubella) run about 1 in 168 that result in a hospital visit. About one in a million will develop encephalitis (a potentially deadly inflammation of the brain). About one in a thousand with measles will develop encephalitis. The means that the risk for this potentially deadly result is thousand times greater for children exposed to highly contagious diseases whose parents decided vaccinations were too risky.

Let’s look for a moment at the numbers of children who contracted highly contagious and common childhood diseases PER PEAK YEAR before and after vaccinations became standardized prior to 2011 (from the Canadian Coalition for Immunization Awareness and Promotion):

Rubella: 69,000 cases compared to 9

Polio: 20,000 cases compared to 0

Mumps: 52,000 cases compared to 32

Measles: 300,000 cases compared to 7

Diptheria: 9,000 cases compared to 1

Obviously, parents who decide the risk is too high from vaccinations are not balancing that risk with what’s true in reality, that the risk from getting these common diseases is not only vastly greater but far more deadly once contracted.

So which parents aren’t vaccinating their children? The poor? The uneducated? Those from broken homes? Those from minorities?


Today’s non vaccinated kids are most likely from white, affluent, with a married mother and father with a college education. These fine upstanding folk are more likely to seek alternative healthcare and use the internet more as an information source. They also tend to live closer together with like-minded people, usually drawn together by some alternative school, church, or politician. This is why outbreaks of preventable diseases usually occurs in geographical pockets (New England journal of Medicine, 2009).

Now let us consider Tajikistan in 2010, previously declared polio free in 2002, with a vaccination rate for polio at about 87%. Now they have a polio outbreak that has no cure, causes paralysis, and often ends in death. In an editorial from the Canadian Medical Association Journal about the similar risk we face in Canada, it tells us:

“We are only one asymptomatic infected traveller away from an outbreak because of low vaccination rates.”

We know vaccination rates are too low. We know that we put EVERYBODY at greater risk for these highly contagious diseases when the rate falls below a minimum of 90% (current estimates put the rate in Canada at about 62% for two-years-olds up to date for all standard vaccinations). We also know outbreaks can and do happen and these risks of not vaccinating everybody are vastly greater than complications from the vaccines themselves. So what is stopping responsible parents from not only protecting their children but doing their civic duty to the rest of the nation?

In the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick (health care is a provincial matter), children must be vaccinated to attend public school. But parents are allowed to (and do) opt out based on medical concerns. Unfortunately, parents can also opt out for religious beliefs as well as matters of conscience! So although there is a legitimate reason for medical considerations backed up by excellent evidence of harm, there is no equivalent evidence on which to base religious or conscience matters.

Matters of conscience are based on a belief that the correlation of childhood health problems stemming from autism, learning disabilities, asthma, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders, allergic and anaphylactic disorders, neuroimmune and autoimmune disorders and other chronic diseases indicates causation with vaccinations.

This belief is wrong. It is dangerous. It is woo. There is no good evidence to back up these claims but exhaustive evidence that they are not causally linked. The conclusion is clear:

There is no excuse for maintaining such willful ignorance and blind stupidity for  not vaccinating children today (with an exemption for medical reasons) except by elevating a trust in faith over and in conflict with evidence from reality… which is yet another in a long list of examples of private faith being exercised in the public domain that causes very real harm to very real people.

September 1, 2011

What is the medical version of the Courtier’s Reply?

Filed under: Homeopathy,Medicine,oogity boogity,Science,woo — tildeb @ 11:22 am

We find a perfect example of this detestable apologetic accommodationist approach for ‘sophisticated’ thinking over at Sabio Lantz’s popular Triangulations, offered up on platter in his post Why do you reject Homeopathy? This is the medical version of the Courtier’s Reply that invokes the need for some level of sophistication to be exercised in order to reject the tenets of homeopathy properly… while making room for what starts out to be hypothetical efficacy derived from it and morphs into actual efficacy associated with it.

Sabio lists three main categories into which a reader’s rejection may fall: tribal doubt (no other ‘tribe member’ accepts it so, being part of this ‘tribe’, you don’t either) , mechanism doubt (the mechanistic explanation is inadequate), and smattering of science (you believe some studies you’ve heard in passing that claim no evidence of efficacy). A fourth classification is for those who have done in-depth research into the applicable science and waded through all the counter evidence of non-efficacy before arriving at an opinion of rejection (similar to the level of knowledge about the finery that is needed before one is allowed to comment of the nakedness of the Emperor).

He is following the tried and true method of the accommodationist so that he can ask with a straight face, Do you agree that something can work in spite of the explanation offered? Notice the words ‘CAN WORK’. That sounds like a reasonable question, doesn’t it? But then, Poof! ; suddenly we’re talking about homeopathy as if it DOES WORK – even if this explanation is absolute bunk – which is slowly revealed to be Sabio’s position all along… beginning with the comment that “I strongly agree that much is to be learned from alternative medicines which has nothing to do with the science behind their treatments.” Really? And what might that be? How gullible people are? How undermining healthy scepticism helps woo-peddlers? How faith-based belief can be accommodated with conflicting knowledge? Do tell, Sabio; do tell. In this post, of course, we never do find out.

What he means by has nothing to do with the science behind their treatments , of course, is the LACK of good science, plausible science, that informs these alternative, complimentary, integrated, holistic, natural treatments… treatments  that are somehow qualitatively different from what we call efficacious medicine but still cause effect, but once you start down the path to presenting the Emperor as if he could be clothed – that woo treatments CAN WORK even if the explanation is wrong  – it is difficult to regain one’s intellectual footing. But intellectual integrity is never the goal of accommodationism; it’s all about appearing to be non judgmental about woo and hyper-critical of justifiable scepticism. The real goal at the end of the day for the accommodationist is to present himself as both a supporter and defender as well as a reasonable sceptic of woo (unlike those ranters and hyper-rational people who dismiss woo claims out of hand because they have no good reasons to believe them in the first place).  It’s tricky ground for accommodationists when the two – woo and scepticism – are in conflict from the get go (see here for why the treatment should banned according the British Medical Association).

Well, what is the explanation of homeopathy that is being dismissed by some level of ‘sophisticated rejection’?

Orac explains:

Most skeptics are aware of the two main principles of homeopathy, neither of which is based on anything resembling good science. The first principle is known as the Law of Similars, which is commonly phrased as “like cures like.” The concept is that the way to choose a homeopathic remedy is to choose something that causes the symptoms the practitioner wants to alleviate. Of course, there’s no general scientific or biological principle to support the Law of Similars. In reality, it’s nothing more than a variant of ancient concepts of sympathetic magic. Yet it is the main basis of all of homeopathy.

The second big law of homeopathy is known as the Law of Infinitesimals. This is the most famous principle of homeopathy that states that the way to make a remedy stronger is to dilute it, a principle that laughs at chemistry, physics, and biology. Indeed, common dilutions of homeopathic remedies (for example, 30C, which is 30 serial 100-fold dilutions, or a dilution of 1060) have been diluted so much that the odds that even a single molecule remains in the remedy are, well, infinitesimal. That’s why it’s not for nothing that skeptics frequently point out that homeopathy is nothing but water. It’s even loonier than that, though. The reason is that dilution is not enough. At each step, we are told by homeopaths in all seriousness that the succussion at each dilution step is critical to “potentize” the remedy. Samuel Hahnemann himself, the inventor of homeopathy, used to succuss his remedies by slapping them against a Bible. These days, in at least one case, a big company like Boiron have machines that do the succussion automatically for remedies like oscillococcinum up to 200C, which represents a 10400-fold dilution. Given that there are only around 1080 atoms in the known universe, readers can easily see the ridiculousness.

So here’s the thing: what is it that is actually being rejected? I think it’s the central tenet of any woo claim about efficacy  – a faith-based belief that supernatural forces can cause through natural treatment natural effect. Sabio suggests that there really, really, really is evidence of efficacy in some of these woo treatments (“I have demonstrated acupuncture to many folks (not just patients). What is real fun is to get a hyper-rational person to experience things they don’t believe exist”) and that this evidence is available (“But I wager you have not read the studies published by homeopaths showing effectiveness. I worked with an MD homeopath who published in Pediatrics about her research in Guatemala with homeopathic remedies used to treat diarrhea and showed an effect”). See? Homeopathy, says Sabio,  DOES produce evidence of efficacy, and there it is: the switch in language from the reasonable CAN WORK to DOES. But he doesn’t really mean supernaturalism at work, does he?

Let’s look.

Sabio actually means efficacy of placebo when he talk about efficacy: “It is funny how people can allow various placebos (to) work for them and yet now (sic) allow others.” Now think about that comment for a moment because it reveals the sneaky way accommodationists forgive promoters of woo for their lack of specificity… through the subtlety of language.

Sabio is suggesting that placebo is more than what it actually is:  self-reporting of feeling better. He present it as a thing, something you can allow or reject, something that works for you. But that’s not what placebo is, not what placebo means. What placebo means is that mood and belief can have a significant effect on the subjective perception of a treatment’s efficacy. Placebo is not any kind of additional ‘thing’ brought to bear by health care practitioners. Placebo comes only from the patient and its ‘efficacy’ is not directly physiological (although to be clear there are biological mechanisms by which mental processes can affect pain). That’s why placebo is often – and confusingly – referred to as an ‘effect’. But to be equally clear, the more concrete and physiological the outcome, the smaller the placebo effect. At its explanatory extreme, that’s why amputees don’t grow back new limbs no matter how much they may wish it to be.

Notice how Sabio slips in the notion that placebo works ‘for’ someone…as if to say if we build it they will come, that putting efficacy of placebo into the patient’s domain means the same thing as putting efficacy of woo treatments under the control of the patient.  This subtle change in language is insidious because it alters what placebo is – self reporting perception – into something it is not – an efficacious deliverable element of treatment with the patient’s permission. This confusion is rampant in the public domain and, in a nutshell, is the main driver of woo in health care: confusion about causal effect.

From wi-fi fears to chlorination of water, from acupuncture to reiki, from faith healing to anti-vaxers, the confusion about the need to link causal effect is neither clarified nor confirmed by accommodationists who pretend we can put aside causation to better respect faith-based beliefs while maintaining intellectual integrity. We can’t. It’s sneaky, dishonest, and cowardly, and comes at a high cost to respecting knowledge . And here’s why:

I think the notion of what’s true in fact (information that is reliable, consistent, and practical in reality) is knowable and dependable. This is what science is built on and we use practical applications based on exactly this everyday in every way of our lives. Accommodationists and apologists for woo take all this and assume it’s equivalent to some democratic vote. (Sabio: I hope to help interested readers to understand why people practice homeopathy and why millions of patients swear to its effectiveness.  So I am talking to those who are willing to consider not dismissing homeopathy out-of-hand, and instead make an effort to understand why others value it so strongly.) That’s not how reality works. You can’t vote against gravity and expect efficacy because millions want to lift its effects to make room for their anti-gravity beliefs any more than you can vote against evolution to make room for the oogity boogity of creationism or vote against science-based efficacious medicine to make room for homeopathy and expect me to sit by and nod and say how wise that is. It’s not. It’s a denial of what’s true in reality (see above description of what that means)… not a philosophical difference, nor a lack of rejection sophistication, nor any other mitigating term accommodationists would prefer to call it. Belief in woo is a denial of what’s true in reality (remember, see above description of what that means).
And it is downright dishonest to pretend that what’s true in reality (see above description of what that means) is only empirically available in some lab. It’s right in front of our faces all the time and we rely on accurate knowledge about it to function. We really must stop pretending that people who sow doubt about trusting in this knowledge (immediately testable and verifiable) rely on the same kind of faith woo believers exercise to maintain their ‘spiritual explanations’ about the supernatural. It’s not just different; it an exercise of hypocrisy that trusts this knowledge on behalf of their lives on a day to day, moment to moment, basis but then a rationalization using such fallacious arguments like the Courtier’s Reply and sneaky word substitutions to suspends this same knowledge to make room for some woo-soaked apologetic belief in oogity boogity.

August 21, 2011

What’s the difference between religious belief and quackery?

Umm… confusion?

First, a bit of background.

I was in discussions with a fellow who used this article as evidence that religious belief in god is driven by biology because it’s true, yet I had a difficult time explaining why the human tendency to attribute agency to supernatural causation was not evidence for god. (It’s a human attribute to get mad, say, at a series of red lights when one is trying to drive somewhere quickly, as if these lights were possessed by a malevolent spirit aimed at thwarting your desires. That experience doesn’t offer us evidence for a malignant spirit, however; it reveals we are all susceptible to giving in to these silly notions.). But the study he was using was from Oxford university, you see, so it had the pedigree of academic authenticity. Therefore, I had to be wrong. It didn’t seem to matter to the fellow that the Project – called the Cognition, Religion and Theology Project – was run by theologians funded by Templeton, nor that it’s funding depended on attributing this tendency to assign agency to be equivalent of ‘believing in god’. It simply didn’t matter that the project’s reason to be was that its “seeks to support scientific projects that promise to yield new evidence regarding how the structures of human minds inform and constrain religious expression including ideas about gods and spirits, the afterlife, spirit possession, prayer, ritual, religious expertise, and connections between religious thought and morality and pro-social behavior.”

Well, it matters a great deal to me because there is a flip side to respecting both supernatural claims and directives that transpose one’s beliefs into actions and, more  specifically, how we are to behave towards others. That flip side runs the gamut from exercising quaint beliefs – some of which motivate the killing of children (see here and here) to outright medical quackery and no human society – no matter how developed in economy or academia – is somehow immune… except and only by those who exercise honest scepticism through critical reasoning, who respect reality – and not our beliefs about it – as the final arbiter of what is true. And that approach can be learned, which I think is a very worthwhile endeavor to undertake. But how to convince more people to exercise it when we are bombarded by familiar and comforting beliefs in supernatural agencies as if they were true in reality?

We are surrounded here in the west by self-spawning quackery to the extent that taxpayers subsidize its teachings and accept its many guises as legitimate treatments. But how many people understand the link between supernaturalism in religion to supernaturalism is medical treatments? To me it seems self-evident that what we’re talking about is not a difference in kind of beliefs in the supernatural but in degree of belief in the supernatural. In other words, faith-based belief comes in many expressions but the root – belief in the supernatural – remains the same. This confuses whether reality or our beliefs about it arbitrates what’s true.

For example, Orac, while criticizing a new study in journal Cancer, tells us the difference between reiki and the ‘energy chelation’ therapy used in the study under ‘peer review’ is that “reiki is faith healing in which the person being healed is usually not touched but the practitioner believes that he’s channeling healing energy into the patient from a “universal source.”

Universal source? Doesn’t that sound a lot like… oh, I don’t know… maybe another way to say  god? Coincidence?

And the founder of energy chelation?  “Founder and director of the Healing Light Center Church, Reverend Bruyere has committed her life to the teaching of these sacred and ancient disciplines, thereby providing her students with practical tools for living the spiritual life, while introducing them to the venerable traditions from which those tools are derived.

That she’s a reverend must also be a coincidence, I guess.

So what are those sacred and ancient disciplines, these venerable traditions? Rev. Bruyere explains:

Human Energy Chelation Therapy (HECT), a process of transmitting or channelling energy, is based on the electromagnetic nature of the human body. The body’s electromagnetic or auric field is generated by the spinning of the chakras. As it spins, each chakra produces its own electromagnetic field. This field then combines with fields generated by other chakras in the body to produce the auric field. An individual’s auric field is manifested via a combination of energies from three chakras. Generally these are the first, third and fifth chakras, which empower the person’s physical, intellectual, and etheric bodies. It is a combination of these three chakras that produces the primary auric field (the inner shell of the aura), which can be physically felt by the therapist’s hand as it is passed over the client’s body in the process of scanning.

Of course. That we have no evidence of the human body as an ‘auric field’ generator matters little when we are talking about ancient and venerable practices, which in turn are based on… you guessed it… faith-based beliefs. The dictionary tells me that ‘auric’ actually means “of, or containing, gold in the trivalent state,” so I suspect what the reverend actually meant was ‘auratic’ – pertaining to the aura. But what’s in a term when the whole thing is pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo?

Well, a lot as it turns out.

Consider the pejorative sense of the word ‘quackery’ to describe medical practices that failed to establish efficacy. From this was born the terms complementary and alternative ‘medicine’ when people could earn degrees to become doctors of ‘naturopathy’, which is now morphing into “integrative medicine” and appearing, like the Oxford Project, on university campuses (see here for the latest) where they suck legitimacy not from the efficacy of their work results, which are non-existent, but parasitically from the university’s name alone . The terminology used in quackery, as ethereal and nebulous in meaning to those found in religious belief, is important to keep the founding faith-based beliefs of these ‘venerable practices’ hidden from those who purchase them today expecting efficacy (I can’t find a religious believer in christianity, for example, who accepts without qualification that prayer is not efficacious in spite of very strong evidence that it is not).

None of these terms are, as David Gorski writes in his excellent critical article,

serious, sober names for a serious, sober, science-based specialty. They are about the branding of quackery. They have always been about the branding of quackery. They are about double standards whereby treatments that can’t pass scientific muster are admitted to the “club” of science-based medicine under lowered standards.

Can this be true? Why, even insurance companies fund treatments like chiropracty presumably because they do work. Don’t they?

Well, you may be surprised at the words of David Palmer, the founder of what we now call chiropractics… a stellar example of what quackery in the medical world looks like today. In his book, The Chiropractor (published posthumously, 1914), Palmer described how he came to understand that 95% of all diseases came from subluxated vertabra  from a channeled spirit from ‘the other world’ (source):

“The knowledge and philosophy given me by Dr. Jim Atkinson, an intelligent spiritual being, together with explanations of phenomena, principles resolved from causes, effects, powers, laws and utility, appealed to my reason. The method by which I obtained an explanation of certain physical phenomena, from an intelligence in the spiritual world, is known in biblical language as inspiration. In a great measure The Chiropractor’s Adjuster was written under such spiritual promptings.” (p. 5)”

He regarded chiropractic as partly religious in nature. In a letter of May 4, 1911 he said:

“… we must have a religious head, one who is the founder, as did Christ, Mohamed, Jo. Smith, Mrs. Eddy, Martin Luther and other who have founded religions. I am the fountain head. I am the founder of chiropractic in its science, in its art, in its philosophy and in its religious phase.”

In his 1914 book, the first chapter expanded on his religious views of chiropractic: “The Moral and Religious Duty of a Chiropractor”.In it he dealt with religious liberty and stated:

“… nor interfere with the religious duty of chiropractors, a privilege already conferred upon them. It now becomes us as chiropractors to assert our religious rights.” (p. 1)

“The practice of chiropractic involves a moral obligation and a religious duty.”

Yes, the same engine that drives faith-based belief pops up in just about every avenue of human activity where we face uncertainties and lack of knowledge: calls from those who profit from the status quo appeal to us to take superstitious claims seriously because they are venerated, because they are ancient, because they are not familiar… not because they are true.

Perhaps that has something to do with why Leo Igwe tells us that:

In some cases Africans associate certain traits or behavior like stubbornness, talking in one’s dreams, sleep walking, aging, albinism, soliloquy, hallucination and uttering meaningless syllables even when it is as a result of some psychiatric problem or self deceit, with magical powers. The general belief is that the veracity or validity of witchcraft claims is beyond the scope of ‘western’ science but within the ambit of ‘African science’. This misconception is common among the so called African elite and is at the root of the problems associated with belief in witchcraft in the region.

Western science versus African science? Isn’t science simply science? So why does this false dichotomy sound so familiar? Oh, yes, that’s right: it’s common to hear people talk about ‘Eastern medicine’ versus ‘Western medicine’ conveniently forgetting that such a dichotomy is just as false. That’s why we need to substitute terms that only seem to be meaningful in reality, to cover up the fact that what the terms represent are not true in reality but exist only in the faith-based beliefs people hold in these superstitious claims… where ignorance and fear are plentiful.

Gorski writes in the same article,

There is no such thing as “alternative” medicine. There is medicine that has been proven safe and effective through science; there is medicine that has not; and there as medicine that has been proven unsafe and/or ineffective through science. Whatever you call it, “alternative,” “CAM,” or “integrative” medicine, when medicine, whatever its source, is demonstrated to be safe and effective through science, it ceases to be “alternative” or “complementary.” It becomes simply “medicine” and is automatically integrated into the current armamentarium of medicine, no special name needed, no special consideration needed to provide a lower standard of evidence.”

The common root of both medical quackery and religious belief is exactly the same: faith-based belief in the supernatural. And, in spite of repeated assertions by all stripes of apologists for faith-based beliefs with the old mantra of ‘What’s the harm?’,  both these expressions really do kill people unnecessarily. And in great quantities. In this sense of supporting the unsupportable, then, there is no difference between religious belief and quackery.

August 17, 2011

What does gullibility look like in print?

Check this out:

3000 Years of Science in a 21st Century Delivery System

CieAura Transparent Holographic Chips™ use a proprietary combination of homeopathic formulas consisting of intrinsic energies that affect positive health responses. CieAura Chips have the look of simple decals on the body or clothing and are totally non-invasive, without any chemical component. When placed along sensitive acupuncture meridian points, results such as increased energy, improved stamina, deeper, more restful nights, and other assorted reactions occur, depending on the program formula of the Holographic Chip and the related placement.

You might think these magical chips actually do something, mightn’t you? Thank goodness the disclaimer tells us it’s all bunk:

CieAura products are sold for learning, self-improvement and simple relaxation. No statement contained in this writing, and no information provided by any CieAura employee or retailer, should be construed as a claim or representation that these products are intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease or any other medical condition. The information contained in this writing is deemed to be based on reliable and authoritative report. However, certain persons considered experts may disagree with one or more of the statements contained here. CieAura assumes no liability or risk involved in the use of the products described here. We make no warranty, expressed or implied, other than that the material conforms to applicable standard specifications.

Yet people actually buy these kinds of products because they are gullible. And they are gullible because they allow their faith-based belief in woo to guide them. The problem, however, is that belief in woo is equivalent in all ways to delusion. When we are willing to trust our delusions as if they were true, we are bound for disappointment. In the meantime, far too many of us are simply gullible… to the great profit of integrated medicine and religious industrial woo-meisters who peddle its virtues.

(h/t neurologica)


August 13, 2011

Why do we need more gnu atheism?

Sorry for the absence: the reality that is life sometimes intrudes and I find I must sometimes yield. Apologies to all.

I came across this perceptive piece of thinking over at Eric MacDonald’s site, authored by Egbert (7th comment)… a voice of commentary I usually find rich in value (in other words, he usually gets me thinking about something in a clear and coherent way previously unconsidered, which a good thing). In describing why gnu atheism is different from atheism long practiced, and why that difference is so important to maintain, he writes about the commonly hostile responses from so many atheist accommodationists (too often self-portrayed as taking on the burden of ‘parenting’ of us naughty and willful children who misbehave in public) :

I think in one way, we’ve been aiding the rationalization and legitimacy and complacency of religion by dealing with religion philosophically and rationally, which goes back right through our modern history. But the New Atheism has certainly challenged this legitimacy in a more traumatic way, by taking away this respect, and deconstructing religious morality. The backlash from the these uppity New Atheists is for the bad parent to tell us all to stop being so shrill and strident, and go back to the rational and historical discussions. We must be careful not be defined by this draconian parent, we are not bad rioting children, we are not the stereotype given to us by the religious. But we must also not obey, and go back to the complacent respectful ways of old atheism.

I think this is worth serious consideration for all those who attempt to keep to the middle road of lip service to respecting the religious beliefs of others in the public domain – especially agnostics sitting so uncomfortably on the unstable points of the wobbly faith fence called don’t choose, don’t decide, don’t judge, don’t think, (just continue nodding while shrugging and repeating the mantra “It’s possible…” no matter how ludicrous the faith-based assertion may be while pretending the absence of evidence in reality holds no meaningful sway to such a tolerant and open mind as yours… so open in fact that your brains have fallen out unnoticed in the clammering accolades from the faitheists).

I think we need to continue to challenge faith-based beliefs in the public domain and expose them for the frauds of reality they are. I think we have to keep hammering home the importance of respecting reality itself – and not the faith-based beliefs of others – to be the arbiter of what’s true in fact. We need to keep asking “How do you know that to be true?” and make faith-based believers expose their own paucity of good reasons, absence of good evidence, lack of clear thinking, and unsupportable conclusions in the arena of reality we share rather than allow the faithiest defense to shift back into the comfy metaphysical realms from which they find protection against the very reality which is supposedly affected by all sorts of mysterious unnatural forces and agencies. The more we insist on speaking from a common position of a shared reality, the less likely it will become for public figures to espouse faith-based beliefs as a character reference rather than an perverted and cowardly admission of  belief in oogity boogity.

July 7, 2011

Why do people believe in woo?

Filed under: Humour,Science,woo — tildeb @ 9:40 am

From The Infinite Monkey Cage on BBC 4: Does science kill the magic?

Robin Ince and Brian Cox are joined on stage by actor and magician Andy Nyman, psychologist Richard Wiseman and neuroscientist Bruce Hood as they take on the paranormal. They’ll be looking at some of the more popular claims of supernatural goings on, and asking whether a belief in ghosts, psychic abilities and other other-worldly phenomena, is just a bit of harmless fun, or whether there are more worrying implications in a belief in the paranormal. (30 minutes)

Listen here.



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