This is the worst Ranger since Turbo

Update! In my haste to get away from the bastion of woo that is, I missed the link which said that the craziness continues if you register. I’ve added the new commentary between the horizontal rules down below, and many thanks to commenter blf in PZ’s comments for notifying everyone else of the unabridged version.

Which one is the Health Ranger?So, Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, doesn’t like skeptics. He doesn’t like them so much that he decided to write a scathing article about “what ‘skeptics’ really believe” without actually bothering to find out what skeptics really believe. Apparently he has his knickers in a twist because of the Twitter-based Shorty Awards, where he was winning until it was discovered that a bunch of his votes were coming from dubious Twitter accounts, and supporters of actual medicine voted an actual doctor into the top spot. So, after accusing science-based medicine advocates of lying about the fraudulent votes propping him up, Adams decided that the best course of action would be to do some lying himself, in the form of an article that boasts more strawmen than a Wizard of Oz convention. It’s easy pickings, and I’m sure Orac and Steve Novella will be all over it soon enough, but I figured it’d give me a chance to exercise some atrophied snark muscles.

(NaturalNews) In the world of medicine, “skeptics” claim to be the sole protectors of intellectual truth.

Citation please.

Everyone who disagrees with them is just a quack, they insist.

No, not everyone, just the ones claiming to provide medical services without the backing of evidence. We don’t call Creationists quacks, for instance, we call them wackaloons. There’s a detailed taxonomy, remind me to send you the poster.

Briefly stated, “skeptics” are in favor of vaccines, mammograms, pharmaceuticals and chemotherapy.

You could have said “skeptics are in favor of real medicine” and saved yourself some typing.

They are opponents of nutritional supplements, herbal medicine, chiropractic care, massage therapy, energy medicine, homeopathy, prayer and therapeutic touch.

And again, “they are opponents of things which haven’t been shown to work, or have been shown not to work.” Sure, it’s only one word shorter, but it’s far more accurate.

But there’s much more that you need to know about “skeptics.” As you’ll see below, they themselves admit they have no consciousness and that there is no such thing as a soul, a spirit or a higher power.

I don’t think “consciousness” means what you think it means. But again, “they don’t believe things for which there is no evidence” would be more economic.

There is no life after death. In fact, there’s not much life in life when you’re a skeptic.

Actually, there’s a lot of life in life when you’re a skeptic. In fact, thanks to modern science-based medicine, there’s a lot more life in life than there used to be. I get to live a lot longer than my ancestors did, and thanks to all those treatments you dismiss–vaccines, mammograms, chemotherapy, etc.–I get to live through things that would either shorten (cancer, influenza, meningitis) or negatively impact (polio, shingles) my life. There was a time when prayer, herbal remedies, and such were the standard medical practice. Around the same time, 2/3 of Europe died of the plague. Perhaps there’s a connection.

What skeptics really believe

Note: this is not what skeptics really believe.

I thought it would be interesting to find out exactly what “skeptics” actually believe, so I did a little research and pulled this information from various “skeptic” websites.

“I also neglected to provide actual quotes or links to said sites, so you’ll just have to take my word that all this is totally representative, I swear.”

What I found will make you crack up laughing so hard that your abs will be sore for a week. Take a look…

I have a feeling that you’re right, but not for the reasons you think.

• Skeptics believe that ALL vaccines are safe and effective (even if they’ve never been tested),

Really? Show me a vaccine available for public consumption that has never been tested. Then, show me a homeopathic remedy that has been tested and found both safe and effective. I’ll even give you a tip: don’t start with Zicam.

that ALL people should be vaccinated, even against their will,

That’s getting to murky legal and ethical waters. Obviously people shouldn’t have medical procedures inflicted on them without their consent. On the other hand, people who have taken reasonable measures to protect themselves from preventable diseases shouldn’t have their lives endangered because anti-science quacks have convinced people that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. And the children of antivax kooks and suckers shouldn’t be endangered because their parents couldn’t sort out science from nonsense.

and that there is NO LIMIT to the number of vaccines a person can be safely given. So injecting all children with, for example, 900 vaccines all at the same time is believed to be perfectly safe and “good for your health.”

I’d like to know who you’re quoting there, Mike. Sure, there’s a limit to the number of vaccines a person can be safely given. I mean, at some point you’re going to be diluting the blood to a dangerous degree. And I’m sure there are dosages of any chemical in vaccines which would be dangerous–after all, anything is deadly in large enough amounts. This is why we have guidelines and tests and studies to determine what the safe limits are, and why we keep any dosages well below those limits. You’re almost right in one respect, though, and that’s that skeptics understand that the human body’s capacity for dealing with pathogens is many orders of magnitude greater than what’s present in vaccines. I mean, the immune system is dealing with countless attacks from all fronts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Adding a few weakened or dead viruses into the mix–or even more benign, some bits of viral coat or surface proteins–barely even registers. It’s just enough for the body to take notice, build up defenses, and continue dealing with the real threats.

• Skeptics believe that fluoride chemicals derived from the scrubbers of coal-fired power plants are really good for human health.

What does the source of a chemical have to do with how healthy it is? A fluoride molecule from a coal-fired power plant is exactly the same as a fluoride molecule from anywhere else–including from the natural fluoridated water sources that first tipped people off to the idea of fluoridating water. Moreover, you do realize that coal comes from plants, right? Don’t you like plants?

They’re so good, in fact, that they should be dumped into the water supply so that everyone is forced to drink those chemicals, regardless of their current level of exposure to fluoride from other sources.

Who’s forcing anyone to drink tap water? You don’t like it? Buy bottled, get a filter that traps fluoride, move overseas. If you can’t accept the basic chemistry and biology behind water fluoridation–not to mention the clinical evidence supporting its safety and effectiveness–then you have plenty of options available to you.

• Skeptics believe that many six-month-old infants need antidepressant drugs.

Citation please.

In fact, they believe that people of all ages can be safely given an unlimited number of drugs all at the same time: Antidepressants, cholesterol drugs, blood pressure drugs, diabetes drugs, anti-anxiety drugs, sleeping drugs and more — simultaneously!

Do you know how science-based medical practitioners can make those claims? Because we’ve done the legwork to find out how different medications affect the body, and how they might interact with one another. See, when you rely on science and evidence to guide your medical practices, you’re able to make specific diagnoses, specific prescriptions, and specific warnings and predictions about how different drugs will interact. Tell me, Mike, what kind of interactions can I expect if I see both a chiropractor and an acupuncturist? Is there a chance that by fixing a subluxation I might end up blocking a chi meridian? If I’m taking an herbal sleep remedy and a homeopathic sleeping pill, am I at risk for overdose? What happens if I pray during all this? Does God consider any of these things to be witchcraft or magic or otherwise verboten?

When your “medicine” is based on fairy tales and fantasies, it really doesn’t matter how they combine, does it? Just go ahead and pay your naturopath, chiropractor, acupuncturist, Ayurvedic healer, reflexologist, TT practitioner, and homeopath simultaneously; there’s no danger of harmful interactions except between their hands and your wallet.

• Skeptics believe that the human body has no ability to defend itself against invading microorganism and that the only things that can save people from viral infections are vaccines.

This is absolutely hilarious, because it really goes to show just how little the Health Ranger knows about basic, grade-school science. The reason vaccines work is because of the immune system. When the immune system is exposed to new pathogens, it develops weapons to fight them, so it’s already prepared the next time there’s an encounter. What vaccines do is make the initial encounter harmless. Instead of encountering the pathogen in the wild and hoping your body survives long enough to develop the virus-specific weaponry, you encounter the virus–or parts of the virus–in a controlled situation. Your body is made aware of the threat and prepares accordingly, so that when you do encounter the wild pathogen, you’re already ready.

It’s the difference between trying to fashion wooden stakes and crosses in the middle of a full-on surprise vampire invasion, and finding a weakened vampire crawling into town so you can stockpile stakes and garlic before the dangerous ones show up. I know which situation I’d rather be in: forewarned is forearmed.

• Skeptics believe that pregnancy is a disease and childbirth is a medical crisis. (They are opponents of natural childbirth.)

Define “natural childbirth.” I mean, I may be radical in thinking that pain is generally a bad thing, and if we can lessen or avoid it, we should. I also think that pregnancy is a medical condition, which necessarily requires medical care and supervision if the child is to be born as safely and healthily as possible. Or are you opposed to folic acid supplements too? Childbirth is dangerous for both mother and child, and so it should be supervised by people who know what to do if a baby is born strangled by its umbilical cord, not people who think that the best environment for a newborn is a lukewarm bathtub contaminated with feces and afterbirth. And if we can make the process go down without all the natural pain that derives from a series of evolutionary compromises, so much the better.

• Skeptics do not believe in hypnosis. This is especially hilarious since they are all prime examples of people who are easily hypnotized by mainstream influences.

Wow, an equivocation on the term hypnosis. And used in such a witty way! Yes, buck that mainstream, Mike! Screw germ theory and sanitation and the scientific method, what we really need are some health rebels!

• Skeptics believe that there is no such thing as human consciousness.

I beg to differ.

They do not believe in the mind; only in the physical brain.

This is simply asinine. It’s equivalent to saying “they do not believe in sight, only in the physical eye.” The mind is what the brain does. It’s an emergent property of the physical brain. This doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as consciousness, it just means that consciousness isn’t some supernatural mystery.

In fact, skeptics believe that they themselves are mindless automatons who have no free will, no soul and no consciousness whatsoever.

The matters of free will and the existence of the soul are ones that skeptics debate freely and frequently; the former depends largely on how we define “free will,” the latter depends on various factors including the religious convictions of the skeptic. In any case, since my soul has never had a broken bone or a headcold, I don’t see how this is relevant to medicine.

• Skeptics believe that DEAD foods have exactly the same nutritional properties as LIVING foods (hilarious!).

This is hilarious, for lots of reasons. First, it’s patently untrue. Skeptics (and everyone else) recognize that living foods and dead foods have very different nutritional properties. For instance, living foods have lots of bacteria and parasites and other things living on and in them, which is why we tend to cook chickens instead of just biting their heads off. Second, aside from carnival geeks and Ozzy Osbourne, who eats “living foods”? I suppose we could quibble about when exactly a lettuce leaf or apple is no longer living, but as soon as it’s plucked and plated, it certainly isn’t going to be carrying out its life functions much longer. By the time any foods, living or otherwise, get to any part of the digestive tract where nutritional properties matter at all, I think we can safely call them dead. Finally, what is the big nutritional difference between a dead food and a living food? There are certainly different chemical processes that take place in different stages, and cooking obviously changes various properties (denaturing proteins and all that), but the lettuce leaf example really underscores the problem: when is a food “dead”? At what point does the nutritional value change? Living things are made of the same cells and chemicals as dead things, and living things necessarily become dead things on the way toward the intestines, so what is the general nutritional difference between the two?

Maybe you’re just not eating its soul. That must be it.

• Skeptics believe that pesticides on the crops are safe,

Safer than the pests. Pests don’t rinse off.

genetically modified foods are safe,

All foods have been genetically modified. Most of it was done crudely, haphazardly, and in a totally undirected fashion by natural selection over millions of years. Eventually, humans came on the scene and invented agriculture and animal husbandry, and we’ve been genetically modifying food ever since. Nowadays, we can just do it a whole lot better, quicker, and safer than we could before, since we’re working on genotypes instead of phenotypes. So yes, skeptics think genetically modified foods are safe, and if you’ve ever eaten a banana or an ear of corn, you do too.

and that any chemical food additive approved by the FDA is also safe.

Well, more or less. Certainly safer than dietary supplements and herbal remedies not approved by the FDA.

There is no advantage to buying organic food, they claim.

We don’t claim that, the evidence does.

• Skeptics believe that water has no role in human health other than basic hydration. Water is inert, they say, and the water your toilet is identical to water from a natural spring (assuming the chemical composition is the same, anyway).

That’s right, skeptics hold the shocking belief that chemistry is true and water isn’t magic!

Quacks, on the other hand, believe that if you shook the water from your toilet just right, it might make a great cure for diarrhea1.

• Skeptics believe that all the phytochemicals and nutrients found in ALL plants are inert, having absolutely no benefit whatsoever for human health. (The ignorance of this intellectual position is breathtaking…)

No, skeptics understand that many of the chemicals in plants certainly do have effects. Some of those effects may have great therapeutic value–say, salicylic acid from willow bark–and some of those effects may be extremely dangerous–say, the neurotoxin coniine from hemlock. What we need to do is subject plants with possible therapeutic effects to careful systematic tests to find out exactly what the effective chemicals are, exactly what effects they have, and exactly what dosages are safe and useful. Then, we isolate the effective chemical, purify it, and put it into specific dosages. That way, we can ensure that people are getting those phytochemicals in safe, effective dosages for specific ailments, not getting unregulated, potentially contaminated samples with unknown effects for general symptoms in unknown dosages, as they would with herbal supplements.

As to the nutrients, I like salad just as much as anyone else. I doubt that you’ll find a skeptic who doesn’t believe in the value of a balanced diet.


• Skeptics believe that the moon has no influence over life on Earth.

This is just ridiculous. Of course the moon has effects on living things–gravitational effects show up as tides, animals like moths use its light for direction, etc. These effects, however, are physical and validated by scientific observation.

Farming in sync with moon cycles is just superstition, they say. (So why are the cycles of life for insects, animals and humans tied to the moon, then?)

This, on the other hand, isn’t. The Skeptic’s Dictionary has a good article on lunar effects, what they are and aren’t. The life cycles of humans, insects, and animals aren’t tied to the moon (what you’ve heard about menstruation is myth and coincidence. The moon’s effects on living things are nearly all due to the light it gives off, not some magical, metaphysical connections.

• Skeptics believe that the SUN has no role in human health other than to cause skin cancer. They completely deny any healing abilities of light.

That’s right, skeptics disbelieve in photosynthesis and the production of vitamin D. The strawmen are getting more desperate.

• Skeptics believe that Mother Nature is incapable of synthesizing medicines.

Not incapable, just not very good at it. Evolution isn’t in the business of manufacturing pure pharmeceuticals in discrete doses for specific ailments. Evolution is in the business of manufacturing organisms which reproduce themselves. Any natural medicines are byproducts, which is why we need to isolate the effective chemicals, purify them, and…well, I mentioned all that above. I assure you, no skeptic disbelieves in aspirin.

Only drug companies can synthesize medicines, they claim. (So why do they copy molecules from nature, then?)

Good question; maybe it’s because your claim of what skeptics claim is entirely baseless. Yes, we copy chemicals from nature. We test them, isolate them, and improve on them. We figure out what effects they have on the body and find other chemicals that produce the same effects more efficiently. What we don’t do is grind up random leaves, put them in unregulated capsules, and call them “treatment” or “medicine.”

• Skeptics do not believe in intuition. They believe that mothers cannot “feel” the emotions of their infants at a distance. They write off all such “psychic” events as mere coincidence.

Skeptics don’t disbelieve in intuition. We just recognize it for what it is: “a bridge between subconsciously processed information and the action of conscious thought.” Hunches are not entirely unreliable–nor are they magical sources of perfect knowledge. They also aren’t psychic phenomena, which for some reason always turn out to be indistinguishable from coincidence, trickery, or fallacious thinking when tested. We withhold belief in “psychic” events because there is no plausible mechanism behind them and because they always fall apart under careful investigation. If someone presented some good evidence of psychic phenomena, we’d change our minds–and give them a million dollars.

As to mothers feeling the emotions of their children at a distance, I have a question: why do baby monitors exist? If this intuitive ability were reliable or consistent, then why would any mother need a device that allows you to listen in on a baby in another room?

• Skeptics believe that all healing happens from the outside, from doctors and technical interventions. They do not believe that patients have any ability to heal themselves.

Dude, you’re repeating yourself. Get a damn editor.

Thus, they do not ascribe any responsibility for health to patients. Rather, they believe that doctors and technicians are responsible for your health. Anyone who dismisses doctors and takes charge of their own health is therefore acting “irresponsibly,” they claim.

Yes, skeptics think that the people best equipped to diagnose and treat disease are the people who have been specifically trained in how to diagnose and treat disease, and who do so with the backing of scientific evidence. We also think that the people best equipped to design buildings are the architects who have been specifically trained to draft structures with careful consideration of the materials involved and the potential complications of the building site, and who do so with the backing of scientific evidence. Just as it’s irresponsible to build your own house with no training in architecture, design, or engineering, it’s irresponsible to “take charge of [your] own health” with no training in medicine, anatomy, physiology, pathology, etc. Is it really so radical, so surprising, to suggest that tasks which require expertise are best done by experts?

• Skeptics believe that cell phone radiation poses absolutely no danger to human health. A person can be exposed to unlimited cell phone radiation without any damage whatsoever.

Shorter: Skeptics understand how the electromagnetic spectrum works. If low-energy, nonionizing, low-intensity microwaves that aren’t even enough to cause heating had detectable physiological effects, then we’d experience it from natural sources–which are far more intense–as well. Furthermore, if low-energy microwaves could have terrible physiological effects on human health, then the far more intense visible radiation should be orders of magnitude more dangerous. And yet, you claim that light has healing effects. Strange how that is.

• Skeptics believe that aspartame and artificial chemical sweeteners can be consumed in unlimited quantities with no ill effects.

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Dude, aspartame? Really? Sigh, okay, here goes: No, no scientifically-minded person thinks that anything can be consumed in unlimited quantities with no ill effects. Even your vaunted spring water is deadly in high doses (and depending on what’s in it, possibly low doses as well). Scientists understand that toxicity is all a matter of dosage, not so much of substance (or the absurd dualist notions that you seem to employ). The Acceptable Daily Intake of aspartame, as determined through actual scientific investigation is 50 mg per kg of body weight. A can of diet soda contains 180 mg. For a 75 kg (a little over 150 lbs) person to exceed the ADI for aspartame, they’d have to consume 3750 mg of Aspartame, or about 21 cans of diet soda. I don’t know anyone who drinks that much pop in a day on a regular basis, do you?

See, again, when science is the basis for your recommendations, you can actually make informed statements about the safety of various substances, rather than assuming that all natural things are okay and all artificial things are dangerous in any amount. If you’re looking for more info on aspartame, here’s a good place to start.

• Skeptics believe that human beings were born deficient in synthetic chemicals and that the role of pharmaceutical companies is to “restore” those deficiencies in humans by convincing them to swallow patented pills.

Citation please.

• Skeptics believe that you can take unlimited pharmaceuticals, be injected with an unlimited number of vaccines, expose yourself to unlimited medical imaging radiation, consume an unlimited quantity of chemicals in processed foods and expose yourself to an unlimited quantity of environmental chemical toxins with absolutely no health effects whatsoever!

First, you’re repeating yourself again. Get a damn editor.

Second, all those things you mention have known safe dosages. No one believes that you can, for instance, be exposed to unlimited X-rays with no ill effect. That’s why they give you a lead apron, that’s why radiologists and technicians stand behind the shielding when they give you an X-ray, you boob. Every treatment carries with it some degree of danger, and thanks to science-based medicine, that degree is quantified before you ever lay down on the X-ray table.

All the beliefs listed above were compiled from “skeptics” websites. (I’m not going to list those websites here because they don’t deserve the search engine rankings, but you can find them yourself through Google, if you wish.)

Ah, “I’m not going to document my sources, because I don’t want them to feel special.” One more difference between you and scientists. See, real medicine requires people to be explicit about their research and experiments, documenting every source of information. Imagine the uproar among alt-med proponents if a medication were released with documentation this sloppy. The truth is that you don’t want to link to your sources because your readers might actually check them and find out that your statements are either ridiculous exaggerations of what skeptics say, or outright fabrications.

But you can prove me wrong, Mike: post your list of sources. Shut all the skeptics up by demonstrating that every one of your points is drawn from actual quotes from actual skeptic websites. I won’t hold my breath.

Skeptics aren’t consistently skeptical

Pot, meet kettle.

If you really look closely at the beliefs of “skeptics,” you discover their skepticism is selective. They’re really skeptical about some things — like vitamins — but complete pushovers on others such as the scientific credibility of drug company studies.

No, we’re equally skeptical about both, requiring rigorous scientific evidence for either. When the rigorous scientific evidence validates a drug’s effectiveness, we accept it (tentatively). When the rigorous scientific evidence shows vitamins to be largely unnecessary, we accept that too (tentatively). Where’s the inconsistency?

Here are some of the many things that “skeptics” should be skeptical about, but aren’t:

I’m sure this will be enlightening.

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about the corruption and dishonesty in the pharmaceutical industry. They believe whatever the drug companies say, without asking a single intelligent question.

Citation please. Drug companies are businesses like any other, and they have the bottom line as their main goal. Drug advertisements, despite the regulations, are just as prone to being misleading and slanted as ads for anything else. This is why we don’t really care about drug companies so much as the scientific research behind the drugs. See, the research isn’t conducted by just one company or just one scientist or just one group. It’s conducted by a variety of people and validated by independent research. Drug trials have to be evaluated by a host of independent scientists and agencies who aren’t concerned with Astra-Zeneca or Pfizer’s bottom line, but who are concerned with safe and effective treatments validated by rigorous scientific evidence.

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about medical journals. They believe whatever they read in those journals, even when much of it turns out to be complete science fraud.

Hey, you know who exposes science fraud? Skeptical scientists. Skeptics tentatively accept medical research that makes it to reputable journals, because most of us aren’t trained medical researchers and don’t have the resources to repeat every experiment that comes down the pipe. We trust the experts provisionally, just as we’d trust what the mechanic says when he examines our cars. And if something is hinky, we trust the scientific process to eventually expose it–to give us a second opinion on our car troubles, as it were. But even despite a lack of expert training on the part of most skeptics, we’re still able to pick out the hallmarks of bad studies–low sample sizes, unstated conflicts of interest, subjective measurements, uncontrolled confounders, conclusions that don’t match the data, poor blinding, etc.–which show up in a number of medical studies–especially in certain journals (*cough*alt-med journals*cough*). Skeptics–and especially skeptical scientists–are just as likely to pick these studies apart as any other.

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about the profit motive of the pharmaceutical industry. They believe that drug companies are motivated by goodwill, not by profits.

Right, and what motivates alt-med practitioners? What motivated Andrew Wakefield or the Geiers? Rainbows and butterflies? We’re under no delusions about the desires of the pharmaceutical companies; can your devotees say the same about purveyors of “natural” remedies?

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about the motivations and loyalties of the FDA. They will swallow, inject or use any product that’s FDA approved, without a single reasonable thought about the actual safety of those products.

The FDA is a gatekeeper, really becoming important only after all the drug testing legwork has already been done by independent scientists. It’s a stamp of approval on work that has already been done. And yet, it’s a step further than alt-med and herbal proponents are willing to take. Tell me, Mike, which is better: an imperfect regulatory agency, like the one for drugs, or a nonexistent regulatory agency, like the one for alternative medicine?

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about the safety of synthetic chemicals used in the food supply. They just swallow whatever poisons the food companies dump into the foods.

Yawn, more repetitive dualism.

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about the enormous dangers of ionizing radiation from mammograms and CT scans. They have somehow convinced themselves that “early detection saves live” when, in reality, “early radiation causes cancer.”

Again, the danger is in the dose, not the substance. Small amounts of X-ray radiation carry a known risk, and that risk is weighed against the benefits of early detection of dangerous diseases. People are exposed to ionizing radiation every time they walk outside (what was that above about the sun’s healing properties?), and the amount of exposure to ionizing radiation during a mammogram is about what you’d get from living in the United Kingdom for a year. I don’t see Brits dropping left and right from radiation poisoning or abnormal cancer rates, do you?

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about the mass-drugging agenda of the psychiatric industry which wants to diagnose everyone with some sort of “mental” disorder. The skeptics just go right along with it without asking a single commonsense question about whether the human brain really needs to be “treated” with a barrage of mind-altering chemicals.

Right, there are no skeptical evaluations of psychiatry. None at all.

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about mercury fillings. What harm could mercury possibly do anyway? If the ADA says they’re safe, they must be!

And no skeptic has ever expressed concern over mercury fillings, even if the studies show no significant risk.

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about the demolition-style collapse of the World Trade Center 7 building on September 11, 2001 — a building that was never hit by airplanes. This beautifully-orchestrated collapse of a hardened structure could only have been accomplished with precision explosives. (…) Astonishingly, “skeptics” have little understanding of the laws of physics. Concrete-and-steel buildings don’t magically collapse in a perfect vertical demolition just because of a fire on one floor…

Oh Jesus, you’re a Truther, too.

• Skeptics aren’t skeptical about the safety of non-stick cookware, or the dangers of cleaning chemicals in the home, or the contamination of indoor air with chemical fumes from carpets, paints and particle board furniture. To the skeptics, the more chemicals, the better!

Hey, dipshit, guess what: everything is made of chemicals. Paints, teflon, carpets, drugs, the sun, pets, people, even water and herbs. About the only thing mentioned here that hasn’t been made of chemicals is electromagnetic radiation, which is instead produced by chemicals.

Nature is bad, chemicals are good


Summing up the position of the “skeptics” is quite simple: Nature is bad, chemicals are good!

Okay, you’ve made it clear that you don’t have an editor, so I’ll offer my services for free, just this once:

Summing up the position of the “skeptics” is quite simple: Nature is bad, chemicals are good!

If we only had more chemicals injected into more babies, the world would be a better place, they say. If we could only ban all plants, herbs, vitamins and supplements, we’d all be so much healthier because then we’d take more pharmaceuticals!

If only we could crack more spines, put more dirty needles into children’s skin, expose more people to preventable diseases, and fill people full of unregulated herbs and supplements, we wouldn’t have to worry about overpopulation anymore! But who’s going to bury all the bodies?

Let’s turn it around, Mike: are there any good chemicals? Is there anything natural which isn’t beneficial? I’ve explained my skeptical position throughout this post, including the points that some natural remedies are effective and some chemicals are harmful. Are your beliefs so nuanced?

Seriously. This is what they believe.

Note: this is not seriously what anyone believes.

They openly admit this is their position.

Note: no one has ever claimed this as a reasonable position ever.

And all you people drinking green smoothies, and growing your own food, and getting natural sunlight, and taking care of your own health, and drinking herbal tea… well you’re all just fools, say the skeptics.

Note:…okay, that one’s pretty much right.

You’re all just too stupid to understand “real” science. Because if you understood real science, you’d give up all those useless herbs and superfoods and healing vegetables and you’d be taking twenty different prescription medications instead.

Sigh, nice false dichotomy. No, the saddest part of all this is that real science isn’t that hard to understand. Anyone can understand the basic principles of basing your claims on evidence and validating them through careful observation. The concepts behind actual medicine are quite easy to grasp, even if the specific biochemistry is more complicated. Perhaps it uses more syllables than “qi” or “soul” or “magic,” but it has the benefit of being real.

Then you’d be really smart, see. Because all those chemicals make you healthy and smart. A few extra vaccine injections will make you even smarter. Then you can join the skeptics because you’re smart enough at that point to understand that chemicals are the answer to all of life’s problems: Depression, anxiety, digestion, sexual performance, sleep, even test-taking abilities… there’s a chemical “solution” to every problem you might experience.

As opposed to alt-med and woo, which offer solutions even for made-up problems like chiropractic subluxations, qi blockages, sick auras, sin, and spiritual illnesses.

What skeptics really are

Mike, you wouldn’t know what a skeptic is if one kicked you in the natural ass.

I hope it’s fairly obvious to you by now that skeptics are the most misinformed people on the planet.

That sound you heard, that faint shaking beneath your feet, was the detonation of my latest irony meter.

They are the easiest people to fool. They’re the easiest to hypnotize, too, because they lack independent thinking skills. Rather than thinking for themselves, they have joined a “club of skeptics” where they can be told what to think and then label themselves “intelligent” for following others in the group.

“Subscribe to NaturalNews insider e-mail alerts!”

These are the people who line up to be injected with useless H1N1 vaccines. (The joke is on them, of course. Those vaccines were a complete fraud…)

And what’s your evidence for that claim?

These are the people who stand in line at the pharmacy to buy a dozen different prescriptions (costing sometimes thousands of dollars) that their doctors told them to take.

As opposed to the people who stand in line at the Whole Foods store to buy a dozen different supplements (costing sometimes hundreds of dollars) that their naturopaths told them to take.

These are the people who eat processed, dead junk food laced with chemicals that make them sick — and then they wonder why they’re sick.

I’ll spare you the details of what’s in the natural fertilizers and pesticides that get used on “organic” crops.

These are the people who sit at home watching television and think to themselves how smart they are because they follow the medical advice they learned in drug company advertisements.

Because no homeopathic remedies or herbal supplements are ever advertised on TV. I’ve certainly never seen a commercial for HeadOn or Zicam or Airborne.

These are the real “skeptics.” They are so incredibly isolated from reality that they don’t even believe in their body’s own ability to heal itself.

These are the real “medical practitioners.” They are so incredibly isolated from reality that they don’t understand that water from a toilet is chemically identical to water from a natural spring.

Skeptics don’t believe in a higher power of any kind: No God, no spirit, no angels, no guides, no creative force in the universe… nada.

Yeah, this is the real proof that you did absolutely no research for your article, because the schism between skeptical atheists, skeptical theists, and skeptics who think everyone should just leave religion alone has been a hot-button skeptical topic for months.

They think the universe is a cold, empty, lonely, stupid place full of soulless, mindless, zombie biological bodies who have no free will and no consciousness.

And people like you, Mike, really don’t help to dispel that belief.

Gee, no wonder these skeptics are so misguided. They have the most pessimistic view possible. No wonder they seek to destroy themselves with chemicals — they don’t even think they’re alive to begin with!

When facepalm just isn't enough.

Skeptics are bent on self destruction. And they believe that when you die, the lights just go out and you cease to exist. Nothing happens after that. You’re just a mindless biological robot whose life has no meaning, no purpose, no higher self.

This is exactly what the skeptics believe. They’ll even tell you so themselves!

I…I just give up. How do you argue with someone so arrogantly ignorant?

Never argue with drones

Oh, okay. Thanks, Mike!

Realizing this, it makes it so much easier to debate with skeptics on any topic. Whatever they say, you just answer, “WHO is saying that? Are YOU, a conscious, free-thinking person with a mind and soul saying that, or are those words simply being automatically and robotically uttered from the mouth of a bag of bones and skin that has no mind and no soul?”

I like how you’re giving your followers a script to follow in response to what you perceive as robotic, hive-mind behavior. Truly you have no sense of irony.

If they answer you honestly, they will have to admit that they believe they are nothing more than a robotic bag of bones and skin that is mindlessly uttering whatever nonsense happens to escape their mechanical lips. At that point, you’ve already won the debate because YOU have a soul, and THEY don’t. You’re arguing with a mindless robot.

I’m laughing on the outside, but I’m weeping on the inside.

Seriously. Think about this deeply.

That’s the first good advice you’ve given. Unfortunately, I doubt that even you will follow it.

If you believe what the skeptics want you to believe (because they are always right, of course), then you must accept the fact that THEY have no consciousness. They are not really “alive.” They are just robotic biological machines. They are drones, in other words. And drones are not equal to a being of energy with a consciousness and a soul, inhabiting a human body with purpose and awareness.

I know what all those words mean individually, but I’ll be damned if I can make any sense out of them in that configuration. Seriously Mike, hire an editor.

Never argue with drones. You only waste your time and annoy the drone.

Okay, two good pieces of advice.

Skeptics… zombies… drones… different words for the same thing. Soulless, mindless, lacking consciousness and free will, having no awareness of the value of life… these are the skeptics arguing for vaccines, mammograms and chemotherapy today. They are agents of death who can only find solace in an industry of death — the industry of modern medicine.

Yes, we are the agents of death. We, who advocate methods which have resulted in the eradication of smallpox and the near-eradication of measles and polio; we, who advocate methods that have drastically reduced infant mortality rates worldwide; we, who advocate the science that has uncovered the roots of once-deadly diseases and found ways to extend the lives of patients who even ten years ago would have been lost causes. We’re the agents of death, not the people peddling treatments that were outdated and unsupported in the Dark Ages, who deny basic biology and chemistry, and who have been directly responsible for the resurgence of preventable illnesses in first-world nations.

You’re a ghoul, Mike, you’re apparently totally disconnected from reality, and your refusal to link or quote your opponents suggests that you’re consciously aware of that. You’re a coward, Mike, afraid to let your followers see what skeptics actually have to say, and so you invent ridiculous positions and lie about them. I can only hope that you don’t drag too many people down with you, and that at least some of your readers are able to recognize your strawmen and ad hominem attacks for the substanceless jabs that they are.

So overall, Mike, your examination of “what ‘skeptics’ really believe” has almost nothing to do with what skeptics really believe. Instead, you’ve crafted an army of strawmen to flail against, and even then, you fail. How many of these complaints can be turned back on you, Mike? How many alt-med enthusiasts and religionists claim to have a lock on secret, ancient knowledge superior to anything produced by scientific investigation? How many antivaxxers claim to have intimate knowledge of a secret conspiracy of “Big Pharma”? How many alt-med loons think that all herbs and alternative modalities are safe and effective, even if they’ve never been tested (or have been tested and found to be unsafe or ineffective)? How many think that everyone needs vitamin supplements and herbal remedies and chiropractic treatments and acupuncture to maintain health rather than cure specific ailments? How many think that six-month-old infants need to have their necks and backs adjusted even though their bones haven’t yet ossified? I could go on and on. You exercise so much pseudo-skepticism about science-based medicine, but you fail to apply the same criticism to your own side. And when backed against the wall, scientific medicine can show you the research, the evidence, the double-blind tests, and the rationale underlying every drug, diagnostic, and prescription. What can you show, Mike? What does any newage alt-med proponent have on his side except platitudes, fallacies, and supposed wisdom from before the germ theory?

Physician, heal thyself.

1. A strawman? Yeah, probably. I suppose it’d be more accurate to talk about water’s magical selective memory that makes it somehow forget the piss and shit on the way through filtration systems, but remember stuff that was diluted out of it during homeopathic preparations. That point, however, has been done to death. This one is funnier. But at least I understand that it’s not necessarily an accurate depiction of homeopathy.

So it’s come to this

It’s taken quite some time, but the camel’s back is officially broken. I fucking can’t stand Bill Maher.

I don’t know where to begin, really. I liked “Politically Incorrect” back in the day, but Religulous was a mixed bag. And now, between the AAI debacle and his renewed rampaging against basic medicine, as well as the frothing and infighting he’s inspired in the skeptic and atheist communities, I’m finally done with the asshole.

I guess the place to begin is AAI. I don’t know, I think there’s some tackiness involved already with their Richard Dawkins Award, and the criteria don’t help assuage my concerns. Here’s what the award was supposed to honor (according to the Wikipedia page):

The Richard Dawkins Award will be given every year to honor an outstanding atheist whose contributions raise public awareness of the nontheist life stance; who through writings, media, the arts, film, and/or the stage advocates increased scientific knowledge; who through work or by example teaches acceptance of the nontheist philosophy; and whose public posture mirrors the uncompromising nontheist life stance of Dr. Richard Dawkins.

Wikipedia cites the Atheist Alliance website as their source for that quote, but the site is poorly designed, and neither the search function there nor Google can find anything about the Dawkins Award anywhere on either that site or the convention site. I’ve heard charges that the criteria were changed after the Maher controversy started, but I can’t confirm that. What I can tentatively confirm is that there’s no apparent mention of the criteria on their site. There is this telling bit:

We are also pleased to announce that Bill Maher, effervescent host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher and host and co-producer of the 2008 documentary movie Religulous, will be in attendance Friday evening to receive the 2009 AAI Richard Dawkins Award for his efforts to further the values science and reason in the world.

Here are the problems: first, Maher is avowedly not an atheist. While all the direct quotes addressing his agnosticism, disavowal of the term “atheist,” and vague spirituality come from years back, I seem to recall even in “Religulous” he claimed that atheists were just as dogmatic, or something along those lines. It wasn’t until just before the convention, when he had Dawkins on his show, that he claimed that title for himself.

Second, there is no way that anyone can claim Maher “further[s] the values of science and reason.” There wasn’t any science in “Religulous,” and even the reason was a bit light. I don’t watch “Real Time,” but I’ve seen enough clips of his antivaccination, antimedicine views to know what an antiscience kook he is. I’m convinced that the only reason Maher buys into global warming and evolution is because his political opponents are against them, not because he understands or trusts the science. His views on medicine have been and continue to be insane and dangerous–and probably spurred again by his anti-corporate political beliefs. He thinks that vaccines are a less settled science than global warming, overestimates the role of nutrition in disease prevention, subscribes to various flavors of detox woo, and generally distrusts “western medicine.” All this should rather disqualify him for any award based around the promotion and advancement of science.

And I’m sure that there were others in 2008 who would better deserve this kind of award. What about the people who organized the London bus signs? How about Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who made serious waves with the Washington Christmas sign, have expanded their billboard campaign, and have continued their radio show and other ways of promoting both atheism and reason. What about Simon Singh, who has taken on the British Chiropractic Association in an ongoing campaign against pseudomedicine? These are just a few, off the top of my head, and there are others who have done more–and consistently–for science and reason than Maher.

Which has skeptics in an uproar, and rightly so. And no one has been roaring louder than Orac, one of my favorite bloggers, who has discussed Maher’s woopidity in the past. Unfortunately, I think Orac got a little overheated in one of his last posts on the subject. For context, Orac’s discussing a post by PZ at the AAI convention. PZ talked about Dawkins’s introduction of Maher, and how Dawkins had to walk a tightrope in the speech between acknowledging Maher’s contributions to the atheist movement and dissociating himself and the AAI from Maher’s stupid views on science and medicine.

I don’t envy the position that Dawkins was put in, there. AAI fucked up in their choice of Maher, and it’s not as though Dawkins was in on the decision. He’s also on a book tour, and apparently wasn’t familiar with either Maher or his views (outside of “Religulous”) until fairly recently. He could have disavowed Maher and refused to present the award, in which case I imagine AAI would have replaced him with someone who would give a glowing boilerplate introduction. By staying involved, Dawkins was able to throw a few punches in as well as acknowledging Maher’s contributions.

Anyway here’s what Orac had to say about it:

As for the “tightrope,” well, suffice it to say that I’m still less than impressed. PZ is right about one thing; it wasn’t enough. To me, this whole fiasco is pretty strong evidence that, if atheism and science come into conflict (unless, of course, that science happens to be the science of evolution, in which case I highly doubt that this controversy would have been so flippantly dismissed), for Richard Dawkins atheism wins hands down, and science-based medicine once again remains the poor, neglected stepchild of the so-called “reality-based” community. Atheism is clearly what’s more important to Dawkins now. As long as he bashes religion, Maher’s a-OK with him and only gets a brief remonstration for his promotion of quackery and anti-vaccine views.

Orac’s posts on the matter, especially some of the later ones, came across to me as mildly unhinged (such as where he criticized PZ for not complaining about Maher in a post that was clearly just a list of speakers–no one was commented on), and this quote is really the apex of that. Richard Dawkins cares more about atheism than science? Yes, I’m sure that’s why he just wrote a science book about science and is touring the country to read scientific excerpts from that science book. That claim, I think, is ludicrous.

Furthermore, it’s not “atheism and science” coming into conflict, as Orac suggests. It’s an atheist group and science coming into conflict. It seems that by the time anyone knew about Maher’s receiving the award, the choice had already been made. So what to do, have all the prominent speakers pull out of the conference? Or use the moment to remind people that atheism isn’t a dogma, and that we can vociferously disagree with one another–and with the organizations that supposedly speak for us? Perhaps there wasn’t enough of that, but it’s not reasonable to claim that this was a conflict between “atheism and science.”

And then there’s this bit: “science-based medicine once again remains the poor, neglected stepchild of the so-called “reality-based” community” Quoi? I’m sorry, Orac, but I’m not entirely clear on this: which reality-based community are you talking about? Certainly not the skeptical community, which gets more vitriolic about antivaccinationists and the dangers of alternative medicine than any other subject. Certainly not the skeptical community who rallied behind Simon Singh in his legal battles. Certainly not the skeptical community who take every quack’s attempt to silence a skeptic and spread it like wildfire around the Internet. Certainly not the skeptical community who has tirelessly fought against the Mercury Militia and the Jenny McCarthy and Oprah followers. Certainly not the skeptical community who typically cut their teeth on debunking homeopathy. Certainly not the skeptical community who trumpets every child’s death due to faith healing and quackery. Certainly not the skeptical community whose top luminaries include a neurologist, a psychiatrist, and a cancer surgeon. No, it must be some other reality-based community that Orac is talking about, because the one I’m a part of makes medicine a primary focus.

So, overall, I don’t think anyone comes out of this looking good. Maher is a contrarian idiot, and has reaffirmed that since the conference ended. The AAI made a boneheaded mistake and apparently is more concerned with covering it up than addressing it, which certainly doesn’t give me any desire to be associated with them. Dawkins comes across as someone who doesn’t pay enough attention to what’s done with his name and assumed endorsement (see also: the Brights). I think PZ makes it out relatively unscathed, though I’m willing to reconsider that. And Orac comes across as someone who wrote one too many insolent posts on this subject.

But while my opinion of the latter three isn’t enough to tarnish my opinions of them more than a little, Maher’s continued use of creationist-style arguments to promote his antiscience views has led me to the conclusion that he’s a world-class asshat, and I’m as done with him as I am with Ben Stein. At this point, I’m glad I haven’t bought “Religulous”: I don’t think I could stand to watch Maher for that long anymore. Fuck ‘im.

Alphabetical Blasphemy

Since today is International Blasphemy Day, I thought I’d take a few minutes to quickly blaspheme against as many religions as I can think of off the top of my head. So, here goes:

  • Ásatrú: I’m not sure how to feel about Ásatrú. I mean, on one hand, it’s got to suck to have other people casually citing your gods as the silly mythological ones that no one believes in anymore, but on the other hand, you’ve got fucking Thor. Plus, your canon is huge–once you’ve finished the Edda, you can start working on Journey Into Mystery. Even Catholicism doesn’t have regular monthly updates. Or continuity editors, for that matter.
  • Baha’i: I’ve read about Baha’i half a dozen times, but any information about them just kind of slides off my brain. I’m pretty sure their schtick has to do with letting the dogs out.
  • Christianity: I realized today that I’d really like to do a comedy version of the Jesus story. Not “The Life of Brian,” but an actual, accurate adaptation of the gospel stories (inasmuch as you can call any mash-up of those four contradictory stories “accurate”) done in a wacky slapstick style. It occurred to me while reading Jesus, Interrupted that Jesus gets run out of town and stoned quite a few times. I can just imagine the scenes of Jesus and his crew running with huge crowds of angry Jews chasing them with stones and stuff, while Ciaphas (or someone) shouts “JEEEESUUUUS!” in a Mr. Slate/Dean Wormer style. The more I think about it, the better I think it would be. I just need to figure out how to funny up the downer ending. Much as I’d like to, I can’t steal this idea:
  • Deism: Deism is kind of like the bathtub drain of religious belief; it’s almost totally empty, and so many things seem to end up sucked down it. Every major argument for the existence of gods ends up getting as far as Deism and no farther; people who aren’t quite ready to give up religious belief altogether seem to get caught in it like clumps of hair, Antony Flew fell in from the other side of the tub, much though Christians would like to claim that he made it across the Deistic divide; and American government has spent so much time caught in the gutter that it’s started using it for ceremonial purposes.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is “Deism sucks.”

  • Ellinais: All the lameness of Ásatrú, but without the awesomeness of Thor. Sure, Hercules and Zeus are cool and all, but there’s so many also-rans–the Legion of Substitute Olympians like Iris and Eris and Nike and such. I don’t know, I just can’t imagine Odin turning into a golden shower to impregnate someone.

    Oh, and as long as I’ve mentioned Eris, I might as well mention Discordianism. Either it’s a parody religion with its collective head up its own ass, or it’s a real religion based around trying way too hard to be funny. I can’t tell the difference, and I’m convinced that its followers can’t either, and most of them are just playing along so they don’t look like they don’t get the joke.

  • Freethinkers: When people accuse atheists of being smug and superior, this is the kind of stupid bullshit they’re talking about. “Freethinker” is even worse than “Bright” in this regard; it’s effectively calling everyone else a slave-thinker or restricted-thinker. Any organization with cute derogatory terms for everyone in the outgroup has its head way too far up its own ass. Can we please resign this elitist term to the dustbin of history?
  • Gnosticism: Hey, look, an entire religious movement based around being super-special elites who know secret things that make them better than you. It’s the religion equivalent of high schoolers with an in-joke.
  • Hare Krishna: A religion known mainly for hanging out in airports, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (which sounds more like an organization that James Bond would fight against) peaked with a mention in a George Harrison song and had officially jumped the shark by the time they started denying the moon landings on religious grounds. Yeah, let’s teach that controversy. Bald assholes.
  • Humanism: You know, there’s not a lot I disagree with when it comes to Secular Humanism, but something about the tradition kind of squicks me out. I think it’s the adherence to a specific set of ethics, or something. I guess I’m technically a Humanist, but it’s not a term I really use. So, yeah, Humanists…stop being so squicky.
  • Islam: I thought about just putting a crude cartoon of Mohammed here, but then a new thought occurred to me. See, like my “Laugh-In of the Christ” above, I think the life of Mohammed would make a fun movie. See, the Hadith has this bit about Mohammed flying up to heaven on a magic donkey that my brain connected to the end of “Grease,” where Danny and Sandy fly into the sky in their car, and I thought “it’d be awesome to do the story of Mohammed like ‘Grease’!” See, you start it with “Allah (is the Word),” then there’s “Sunni Nights,” “Look at Me, I’m Aisha B.,” and “Madrasah Dropout.” By the end, Mohammed will be all clean-cut and wearing a sweater, and Aisha will be sewn into her leather burqa. I know she’s only supposed to be six years old, but given Hollywood’s proclivity toward casting older people as younger people, I suspect that we might get an actual teenager in the role. I recommend Miley Cyrus.
  • Jainism: You know, if the Jains were serious about their commitment to not killing any living things, they’d all take medication to inhibit their immune systems. You guys are so careful that you sweep bugs out of the sidewalk in front of you and avoid root vegetables since they kill living plants, but what about all those living bacteria that your body’s killing all the time? Bunch of hypocrites.
  • Kemetism: Why resurrect Egyptian mythology as a religion if you’re not going to mummify the dead and build pyramids? Neopagans ruin everything.
  • Libertarianism: Because substituting “the market” for “God” is still a religion.
  • Mormons: Mormonism is religion as done by It’s a mishmash of Christianity, 19th Century science fiction, Masonic ritual, American patriotism, wish fulfillment, and really awful pseudohistory. “So, this guy discovered some magic stones, which may or may not have been in a breastplate of some sort, then used them to translate a book of golden plates (though the book wasn’t in the room at the time), written in ‘reformed Egyptian’ by Indians who were actually Jews who sailed across the ocean to America, where Jesus went on walkabout once. Apparently, there’s no such place as Hell (but somehow there’s still a devil), so everyone gets into Heaven, but some people get better rooms, and if you’re really good and wear your magic underpants and never drink coffee, you get to be the god of your own planet when you die! Oh, and God is from another planet, which orbits a star called Kolob, and there are Puritans living on the moon! And black people will turn white if they start behaving, and God and Jesus had bunches of wives, but we don’t talk about those things anymore.” Joseph Smith was fucking Harold Hill, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it started as a drunken bet that just got out of hand. In fact, I would be very surprised if it didn’t start as a drunken bet that got out of hand.
  • Newage: Ah, newage, less a religion, more a smorgasbord of stupidity. There is no dumb idea that newage hasn’t adopted, embraced, and woefully misunderstood. If Deism is a shower drain, then newage is the trap pipe underneath that collects all the gunk and detritus that gets past the screen.
  • Objectivism: What kind of cult of personality outlives their personality? One with the personality of a petulant junior high student, I guess. It’s a shame that Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard are both dead; I’d really like to see a definitive decision on which cult leader was the bigger hack.
  • Pantheism: Pantheism saw Deism’s non-interventionist, impersonal prime mover god, and said “that god’s not useless and superfluous enough! I can do better.” And by George, they did at that. Way to set the bar high, Pantheists.
  • Quakerism: The graph of Quaker popularity drops off significantly after the end of the 18th century, and has a short, sharp resurgence in 2003 or so, when everybody took the Belief-O-Matic Quiz and found out they were “Liberal Quakers.” In between, it’s all oatmeal.
  • Rastafarianism: I think if you actually did the demographics, Rastafarianism comprises equally Jamaicans and pretentious college stoners who want to give up shampoo.
  • Satanism: I don’t know what’s worse: that Christians repeatedly get panicked over an effectively nonexistent religion, or that they get panicked over an effectively nonexistent religion that they think is made up of Dungeons and Dragons players and KISS fans. Never has there been a sweatier, hairier nonexistent religion.
  • Taoism: ‘Nuff said.
  • Unitarian Universalism: All the uselessness of Deism with all the boredom of church! UU is the best argument for good atheist meetup groups.
  • Voodoo: The only group who has contributed more easy plot devices to horror movies than the gypsies. It’s almost a shame that no one knows anything accurate about them.
  • Wicca: A fifty-year-old ancient religion made entirely out of pale skin, fishnet sleeves, awkward body fat, pretentious teenagers, and lesbians. No religious tradition in history has ever needed a harder smack with the cluestick.
  • X-Files: I know it’s not a religion, I’m just using it as a handy term for all the conspiracy theorists out there who aren’t adequately covered by the rest of the list. The X-Files was basically “Left Behind” for the Coast to Coast AM crowd. Which explains why the show ended up being totally incoherent, ridiculous, empty, and raising far more questions than it was poised to answer.
  • Yoga: As I understand, this religion gives you the ability to stretch across the screen and breathe fire. And according to the manual, it supposedly allows you to teleport, but that’s, like, 12th-level Yoga or something.
  • Zoroastrianism: Spanish for “the foxastrianism.” Extant since somewhere around 600 BCE, it’s like the little religion that could…worship a god who answers phones on the Enterprise and drives a Japanese car.
  • Everyone else: chances are, you’re too lame or tiny to merit notice. I mean, come on, I picked Kemetism over you? Yeah, sucks to be you. With the exception of Scientology (aka Mormonism with a higher page count): it’s okay, Scientology, someday you’ll catch Nicholas Cage for killing John Travolta’s kid. In the meantime, enjoy being 4chan’s bitch.

And that’s the end of it. Happy Blasphemy Day, everyone!

I can hear you, just barely hear you, I can just barely hear you

I have tinnitus in my left ear. At least, I think that’s what I have; my attempts to get the condition diagnosed have generally been unsatisfying. For me, it manifests as a static sound, accompanied by a feeling of movement or pressure or something in my ear canal. It comes and goes, and it usually accompanies sounds, but not with any particular pattern I’ve been able to discern. Naturally, it never seems to happen when I’m getting tested, so I’m sure that’s contributed to the vagueness of my diagnoses. It’s a nuisance, more than anything, but I’d certainly like to be rid of it.

So, recently I’ve heard this commercial on my local Air America affiliate. It starts with some overly dramatic voices–“Do you hear it?” “I hear it all the time!” “It’s annoying.” “It keeps me awake at night.”–and so forth. There’s an annoying sound in the background, which rises in intensity as the voices rise in desperation, and if that portion of the commercial were to escalate any further, I’d expect it to head for some desperate Lovecraftian or Poeian declaration of insanity–“‘TIS THE BEATING OF HIS HIDEOUS HEART!” or something.

Cue the soothing sales pitch, saying that you can “hear the silence” with Quietus, an all-natural herbal remedy for tinnitus. My first reaction was one of sardonic literary geekery: yes, I imagine that quietus is a cure for a great many ailments. All of them, in fact. I just wonder if they make it with a bare bodkin.

That lame English major joke would have been the end of this post, but that “all-natural herbal” tagline in the commercial seemed like an opening for copious amounts of woo, so I dug a little deeper. Lo and behold, when I found their website (such as it is–it’s just a one-page ad with no information about the composition), the woo ran hot and cold like pure water:
I suppose it'd cause quietus if you drank enough of it.
That’s right, it’s homeopathic. For the two of you who don’t know, homeopathy is a pseudoscientific alternative medicine modality based around the “Law of Similars”–that if you have some symptom, the way to cure it is by taking small amounts of substances that cause that symptom. In order to achieve those small amounts, one part of the allegedly curative substance is diluted in ten or one hundred parts of water, which is then shaken in a particular way. This procedure may be repeated several times, giving incredibly dilute solutions. And by “incredibly dilute,” I mean “well beyond Avogadro’s Number, so diluted that none of the solute remains in the solution.” This is okay, because the water has memory, and shaking it causes something about the vibrations of the substance to yadda yadda. The point being that if it worked the way homeopaths claim, it would require us to completely rewrite the laws of physics. Thankfully for the physicists, homeopathic remedies consistently fail all well-designed tests of efficacy.

Now, it’s possible that Quietus uses one of the more potent dilutions–1X, for instance, would be a 1/10 dilution, which is quite potent for some substances. I don’t know, because the website doesn’t include any information on the product.

But what the website does have is a phone number. I decided that this blog fodder was too rich to pass up, especially since it hit so close to home. So I gave them a call. I stayed on hold for awhile, jotting down the questions I wanted to make sure to ask. Eventually a representative picked up–we’ll call him Dane–and asked me basic information about my name and condition. I was completely honest, describing my symptoms just as I did above, and mentioning that I’ve had them since about sixth grade or so.

He explained that Quietus is a chewable tablet that you take twice a day; over the course of the conversation, he further explained that most people show an effect in seven to ten days, and that you should wean yourself off of it once your symptoms are gone. But he was also careful to note that this isn’t a cure for tinnitus, but it will cause the symptoms to go away, or it will cause you to stop noticing the symptoms–that much wasn’t entirely clear.

Dane mentioned in the early part of the call that Quietus is a proprietary mix of various herbal remedies “proven” to relieve the buzzing, ringing, etc., associated with tinnitus. He also noted that it was “certified effective by the FDA Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia.” When I could, I asked if he’d be able to tell me the ingredients–I wouldn’t want to risk an allergic reaction, after all. He listed off a bunch of ingredients: Potassium blends, sodium, salicylic acid, iodide, and something called “cenosha” or “senosha” bark. I’ve tried looking up the latter on Google in a variety of spellings, but I can’t find anything even close. After each substance, he mentioned that it has been “proved” to be effective on tinnitus symptoms.

I then moved on to the only question I had to really play dumb for: “You mentioned it’s certified effective by the FDA Homeopathic…what did you say? I’ve heard of homeopathic stuff before, what is it?” Dane explained that it was the branch of the FDA in charge of vitamins and supplements. I understand what he meant, but he really wasn’t answering anything even remotely like the question I asked. It was also clear that he either didn’t know what homeopathy was, or really didn’t want to say–and I suspect the former.

Finally, I asked, since it had been certified effective by the FDA, if there were any clinical trials. He answered that they had been proved effective, and that it had been proved for five years to be safe and effective. I asked if the results would be published anywhere, and if that information was available; Dane said that the literature that would be included with the pills would have testimonials and such. I may have cut him off a bit there; “I was thinking more like medical journals or something like that.” He replied that he was pretty much just a salesman, and wasn’t sure about anything like that. Obviously, I understood that.

Given that, I said that I wasn’t sure if he’d be able to answer the other question–“What mechanism it works through, like the biochemistry of it?” He really didn’t know, and I didn’t blame him. At one point he’d said that the remedies enter the body and cause the brain (or ear) to no longer recognize the noise, but it was unclear how this happened.

Dane realized at that point that he hadn’t even told me how much it cost–$59.95 for one bottle of 64 pills (I think that was the number), and discounts for more bottles, plus a 100% money-back guarantee if I’m not satisfied. I explained that I’d have to do a little more research first, and that I’d call him back. I realized the call wouldn’t end there, because I’m sure he gets paid on commission. He asked whether it was a cost issue, or if I was just skeptical about whether or not it worked; I answered that it was a little of both. Dane suggested that the best way to find out if it works is to try it yourself, and I really held back the torrent that that Doggerel could unleash. I said “sure,” and Dane said that everyone was different, so even if you look at all the trials, it won’t tell whether or not it’ll work for you. I agreed, but said that I know there are also cognitive biases that I wouldn’t want to fall into, and so I’d like to do a little more research before I make a decision. Dane said that he thought we could both agree that the best idea would be to do some more research, look at the information, and try it myself. I chuckled a little and said that I agreed, and I figured I’d do the first step and call him back for the second. I thanked him for the information, and he more or less hung up.

I don’t want to say anything disparaging about Dane, he was a nice guy, not really pushy at all, and I only wish he was a little more knowledgeable about the product. I feel a little bad for him; I wasn’t going to be dropping $60 on homeopathic pills, regardless of the dosage, and so I did kind of waste his time. It’s not his fault that homeopathy is bunk; he’s just the guy answering the phones, and he wasn’t prepared for some skeptic blogger to call and bother him for twenty minutes. Then again, that wouldn’t be a concern if his employers weren’t peddling pseudoscience as real treatment. Thinking back, I would have liked to have asked him about the dilution, but that would have tipped my hand as someone who knew a thing or two about homeopathy. I also would have liked to know if there were any expected side effects, and I’m kicking myself a little for not thinking of that in the first place.

I want to hit on that “proved” word which kept coming up in the conversation. Now, if it were a normal drug, then I would expect that word to refer to a multi-phase series of clinical trials, the results of which would be published in medical journals and available to anyone with the appropriate subscription. What “proving” means, apparently, in homeopathy is “homeopaths showing that a given substance causes a given symptom at some dosage.” I don’t know that this is what Dane meant in particular (and I don’t know if he’d have known either), but I do find the repetition of that particular word to be interesting, since it does have such significance in homeopathy. In any case, the fact that it’s in the Homeopathic Pharmacopoeia really doesn’t mean anything to me; the FDA’s regulations governing homeopathy are almost nonexistent, a problem exposed most recently by the Zicam scandal. If Quietus went through tests to demonstrate safety, as Dane suggested, then it went above and beyond what’s necessary under FDA guidelines.

What all this comes down to is that tinnitus is really the perfect woo-friendly ailment. The symptoms are entirely subjective, which opens the door to some significant psychological effects. At least in my case, the symptoms also come and go irregularly and unpredictably, and I’d be a little surprised if even chronic tinnitus didn’t wax and wane in severity over time. Not only does this open the door to confirmation bias, post hoc ergo propter hoc thinking, and regression fallacies, but it explicitly suggests that the latter is to be expected as a normal effect of treatment. Quietus isn’t a cure, and Dane specifically recommended keeping some pills on-hand in case symptoms recurred. Therefore, any improvement in symptoms–even if that improvement is just normal, expected regression to the mean–would be attributed to the pills’ effectiveness, and any restoration of symptoms has already been explained away as normal, expected, and reason to use more pills. I think the only fault in this scheme is the relatively small pool of sufferers–which I think accounts for the $60 bottles, as opposed to a more Zicam-esque $15 or so–but even then, since there is no actual cure, they’ve got a chance of snagging quite a large portion of those sufferers.

I can’t say, without knowing a little more, whether or not this is a scam. After all, it might have therapeutic dosages of the substances in question, and they might be effective. What I can say that there’s not a chance that I’ll be dropping $60 on tinnitus remedies anytime soon, and that “try it for yourself” is about the last method I’d choose to evaluate the efficacy of such a drug.

Heart Burned

Ooh, barracuda!Prompted by a recent post at Pharyngula, I got to thinking again about one of my more recent (and growing) pet peeves: “the heart.” Now, I’m as poetic as the next guy; I don’t have much problem with throwing around “the heart” as the figurative and symbolic center of emotion and passion (though I’m starting to). But I have a big problem with people who don’t understand the “figurative” aspect of that. I’m tired of being told to “think with my heart,” or that some quality “resides in the heart,” or that the heart has special powers of perception or thought or consideration separate from the brain. I’m tired of hearing that the heart is some magical receptacle of emotion-based ancient wisdom, which the brain is incapable of understanding.

The heart is an organ, like any other, with a set of functions, like any other. It’s a bundle of muscle and valves and other assorted tissues that pumps blood through your body. That’s it. All your feelings, thoughts, emotions, wisdom, and knowledge resides solely and completely in the wrinkly organ in your noggin. There’s nothing the heart does which cannot be understood by the brain. The heart does not think, does not experience or produce emotion, does not see or perceive, does not love, does not have tattoos on it, does not experience partial or total eclipses, is not like a wheel, and most certainly will not allow you to talk to animals or summon Captain Planet.

The heart is an amazing organ and a kickass band, but it’s not the magic four-chambered room where your wise and emotional soul lives. Any suggestions to the contrary are either metaphorical or misguided, and it would be wise not to mix the two.

Skeptics’ Circle #87

The 87th Skeptics’ Circle is up at Action Skeptics, with a classy poetic twist. Here’s my tribute:
There once was a Circle for Skeptics
Which acts like a woo antiseptic
If you choose not to go
And increase what you know
Then my friend, I’ll be apoplectic.

What the fuck, Discovery Channel?

You know, I realize that the Discovery Channel isn’t exactly a bastion of critical thinking and good science. It’s pretty much “Mythbusters” and the occasional special, and then everything goes downhill. Much like the History Channel, which seems to be about ghosts, Nostradamus, UFOs, “Bible history,” and conspiracies any time it’s not Nazis.

But “A Haunting”? Really? I’m watching their notoriously unreliable Urban Legends show, which is bad enough (interviewing “self-proclaimed Psychic Twins” about mistaken identity? Really?), but then this dreck comes on. Now, I’ve heard about “A Haunting” before–it’s the show that tells hour-long “paranormal” anecdotes entirely through voiceover, dramatization, and interviews with the anecdote presenters–and I knew it was terrible, but I had no idea.

And this is speaking as someone who grew up on “Unsolved Mysteries;” at least they told multiple stories per episode, some of which may have had some element of truth. This? This is ridiculous. It has an opening segment that would be better suited for “The Outer Limits” (or better yet, “Tales from the Darkside”) and sound cues stolen directly from “Torchwood.” A kid gets scared at night in the woods surrounding his house, and he’s “a very logical person,” so it can’t possibly be something normal. Gosh, strange noises and sights in a house surrounded by forest? I would never have expected such a thing. They hire a priest, a “paranormal investigator” who goes on about gravity and vortices and “impossible,” and then a “respected psychic” who tells them that their house was the site of several murders, where bodies were kept in the crawlspace until they could be buried. It seems to me what they need is an exterminator, a babysitter, and a psychiatrist. The “logical” kid is our token skeptic, but if the reenactment is any indication, he’s jumpy and dumb. Oh, and he saw “orbs of light in the trees.” Fucking fantastic.

I came into this episode in the middle (I was on the phone for the beginning), so I can’t say much about it, but it’s pretty clearly written by someone who’s seen “Poltergeist” and “The Amityville Horror” a few too many times. Oh noes, things stackeded in middle of room! I must haz a ghosts!

Sigh…it’s a trainwreck, and I can’t look away. If it’s on again tomorrow, I think I may liveblog it. Because, you know, I’m a glutton for punishment.

On an unrelated note, why is Discovery Channel using “Gimme Shelter” to advertise their show about going into space? Specifically the line “war, children, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away”? I mean, it’s catchy and upbeat, but you really ought to listen to the lyrics before you use the song.

I’ve been playing a lot of “Rock Band” lately with some friends, and let me tell you, it’s weird as fuck to sing that song. It’s a little hard to belt out Mick Jagger’s upbeat “rape, murder, it’s just a shot away, it’s just a shot away” several times in a row.

Edit: Another episode of this crap showed up while I was doing dishes. Not even a token skeptic in this bunch. We have a family who hired the Nick and Nora of paranormal investigators–a “religious demonologist” and his ancient clairvoyant wife–and their student, a worthless fucking tool who claims to believe in ghosts “the way most people believe they’re breathing air. It’s not even a question.” The family is beset by the most mundane of hauntings, with strange creaking noises and a “loud crash” that “couldn’t be natural.” I suppose “falling branches” are now an impossibility. Daddy has a bad dream where he’s covered in bugs, and it “felt so real,” therefore ghosts. Gosh, if I’m stressed and easily scared, I can’t possibly expect to have (ridiculously common) nightmares. When the five-year-old started choking, our worthless tool decided that the proper course of action would be prayer and salt and threatening the ghosts with Jesus; I don’t know, I think my first inclination would be the goddamn Heimlich Maneuver.

But the best bit is when Nick and Nora decide that they need to do an exorcism, but first they have to get permission from the Vatican. Oh great, not only is there an imaginary threat, but there’s imaginary bureaucracy. The whole bit reminded me of this example of imaginary protocol:

I think two hours W.O.O. would be appropriate punishment for these dipshits too.