The worst pseudoscience of the decade?

It’s the end, the end of the ’70s
It’s the end, the end of the century.

Joey Ramone, 1979

As amazing as it is to me, the first decade of the 21st century is fast approaching its end. It seems like only yesterday that my wife and I were waiting for the dawn of the new millennium with the fear that civilization would go kablooey because of the Y2K bug. (Remember that?) Obviously, civilization didn’t end. Given the rise of pseudoscience over the last several years, it only seems that way sometimes. However, even though it’s an entirely arbitrary construct and a human imposition of our own wishes onto amorphous time that resists division into such need constructs as decades, the end of a decade always brings up the issue of “best of” and “worst of” the decade. The ever inimitable Dr. Charles thus has a survey in which he wonders what the medical advance of the decade is. It’s worth it to head on over there to vote on ten contenders. Personally, I’d vote for the successful conclusion of the human genome project myself.

This blog being what it is, though, Dr. Charles’ project got me to thinking. What’s the worst quackery of the last decade? If you’ve been reading this blog, I think you know what my answer to this question would be. Clearly, it’s the rise of the anti-vaccine movement. Indeed, I’m totally down with Clive Thompson of the Washington Post when he declared vaccine scares to be among the worst ideas of the decade. Indeed, he appears to be channeling Orac when he writes:

The movement blaming vaccines for causing autism emerged in the early 2000s, and it was one of the most catastrophically horrible ideas of the decade. Not just because it’s misguided: Sure, study after study has found no solid link between autism and many alleged vaccine-based culprits, ranging from adjuvants to thimoserol, a mercury-based preservative. The bigger problem is how uniquely powerful the anti-vaccine contingent has become – and how it has begun to deform both public policy and everyday behavior.


The subtler but more insidious effect of the vaccine-autism movement is philosophical. The anti-vaccine folks have whipped up anti-science sentiment by painting scientists as corrupt elitists on the take from Big Pharma, cackling sadistically as they force us to get shots. This paranoia flows equally from woo-woo Hollywood liberals and the anti-government right; few other subjects can unite Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey with Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

I’ve said it time and time again. Anti-vaccine quackery is the pseudoscience that unites all parts of the political spectrum. There’s something there for crunchy liberals who are suspicious of big business and anything other than “natural cures,” as well as for right wing nutjobs like Glenn Beck, who intensely distrust government, and New World Order conspiracy theorists. Truly, anti-vaccine quackery is the woo that keeps giving. True, the modern anti-vaccine movement got its real start in the U.K. in 1998, when Andrew Wakefield’s bad science sparked the MMR scare, leading a generation of parents to believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The scare didn’t truly take root here in the states until 2004 or so, when David Kirby’s book convinced parents that the mercury in thimerosal used as a preservative and then, in 2005, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., served up a heapin’ helpin’ of quote mining and conspiracy mongering to scare parents even more.

So, given that the anti-vaccine scare is clearly the winner, hands down, for the worst quackery of the last decade, I open my comments to you, my readers, to propose other areas of quackery that were the worst of the last 10 years. Heck, if you disagree with me and think that my choice of the anti-vaccine movement for this dubious honor is not justified, make your case! Either way, let’s make a list.