An amusing bath of crank magnetism


It was a long day in the operating room again, albeit unexpectedly so as a case that I had expected to be fairly straightforward turned out to anything but. Let’s just say, when I’m peeling tumor off of a major blood vessel, my anal sphincter tone is such that if someone were to stick a lump of coal up there it would come out a diamond. Fortunately, everything turned out fine (damn, if I don’t sometimes know what I’m doing), but that, plus the other cases, drained. This seems to be happening more and more often these days, which means that I’d better get my lab funded quick before I’m forced to do two or three times more cases than I’m doing now just to support myself. Yes, that’s how it works; you either support yourself at an academic institution by operating or by getting grants (which, with NIH funding levels stagnant—declining, actually, when adjusted for inflation—for the last several years, the grant funding situation just doesn’t look that good, or you support yourself by doing what doctors do and seeing patients (or, in my case, doing what surgeons do and operating).

Enough of my whining, though. Just because I was beat when I got home tonight doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve at least an abbreviated blast of Insolence from the old master himself. Remembering that an abbreviated blast of Orac’s Insolence, Respectful or otherwise, is longer than most other blogger’s regular posts, you won’t lack for anything. Besides, it’ll be fun, especially if you join in the comments.

I and others (Mark Hoofnagle) have written about a phenomenon common among cranks known as crank magnetism. It’s a very simple concept describing a widespread phenomenon among cranks of all stripes. Basically, what crank magnetism describes is the tendency of a believer in one form of pseudoscience (like alternative medicine) or science denialism (such as denial of anthropogenic global climate change or evolution denial, the latter of which is more commonly referred to as creationism) to believe in other forms of pseudoscience or science denialism. Examples are many, but the one I like to use is—surprise! surprise!—Mike Adams, whose hatred of scientists whose science he doesn’t accept is legendary but who buys into an astonishing variety of woo and conspiracy theories, ranging from many forms of alternative medicine, rabid hatred of vaccines and, even more so, psychiatry, as well as New World Order conspiracy theories that would make even Alex Jones blush. Or maybe not. After all, Adams worked for Alex Jones for a while. (I don’t know if he still does.)

So it’s not surprising that antivaccinationists often fall prey to crank magnetism. However, seldom does it happen as hilariously as two examples I’ve come across. First, here’s a little context. Regular readers might know that I subscribe to many e-mail lists (and Twitter feeds) run by cranks. The reason is simple: They deliver fresh blogging material to my in box or Twitter feed, a seemingly never-ending, inexhaustible supply of woo, conspiracy theories, and the like from which I often choose the topics of my posts. So it was that I’ve been subscribing to Generation Rescue’s e-mail list. Generation Rescue, as you might remember, is the antivaccine group originally founded by J. B. Handley based on the idea that “autism is a misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning” (ah, how 2004!) but later evolved into a more all-purpose, inclusive antivaccine group welcoming basically any idea about autism causation, as long as it involved vaccines (and, to a lesser extent, environmental contaminants). Later, the organization was put in the hands of celebrity antivaccination in chief, Jenny McCarthy.

In any case, GR’s latest newsletter induced but a single reaction in me: Uproarious laughter. Here’s what it said. The subject was “Who’s the new kid on the block. No, not Jenny’s husband,” and the answer was:

If you were at the Autism Education Summit in Dallas a few weekends ago, then you probably know whom we’re talking about! The IonCleanse® foot bath from A Major Difference made “a major difference” to the attendees who got to try it.

Whoa. Talk about crank magnetism! Ion cleansing foot baths? That really brings back memories, such as this post from seven years ago entitled A soothing footbath of woo, a post you newbies (and even you not-so-newbies) should go back and read. “Detox footbaths,” remember, are claimed to draw “toxins” (yes, those unnamed, mysterious unnamed toxins). The evidence? The water bath, which is loaded with salt and through which a weak current is run, turns a nasty brownish-red color after your feet have been in in a while. Of course, what no one tells you is that the water turns that same color through electrolysis if your feet aren’t in the water. It’s a lovely scam, and it would appear that Generation Rescue is falling for it. Of course, as usual, GR’s timing couldn’t be worse, given that Brian Clement, the quack who is treating the First Nations girl from Ontario, is a fan of the Aqua Chi detox footbath. (OK, different brand, same quackery.)

The e-mail sends the reader to the Facebook page of A Major Difference:

And includes this sales pitch:

While AMD is the new kid on the block here at Generation Rescue, they’ve been “detoxing the planet two feet at a time” since early 2002. As many of you are already aware, toxicity is one of the major factors in autism spectrum disorders.

AMD claims that users of their foot baths, especially young children, feel calmer with less aggression and a greater ability to focus. Can you imagine what life could be like if your child exhibited any of these benefits? Can you imagine how much better he or she would progress with the other therapies? One very proud mother did imagine the possibilities and is excited to share her son’s incredible experience in this video.

Naturally, I couldn’t resist heading on over to the A Major Difference website, and all I can say is, “Whoa.” Or should I say, “woo”? Detox footbaths galore are on sale, ranging from the IonCleanse®Solo® Package for only $1,995 to the IonCleanse®Premiere® Package for only $2,895. What a bargain! Perhaps the most hilarious part of the website, which might be worth a post of its own one day, is the research section, complete with a report on the ions in the footbath from—I can’t stop laughing—Doctor’s Data! Seriously, guys, Doctor’s Data?

In any case, it’s a lovely example of crank magnetism, but it’s not the only one. Remember The Thinking Moms’ Revolution, that self-absorbed coffee klatch of mommy warriors with a love of wine, a hatred of science-based medicine, and a level of Dunning-Kruger effect powerful enough to produce a black hole of stupid? They’re mainly antivaccinationists, but lately they’ve been branching out into other forms of woo in true crank magnetism style. First up, it was energy healing. Now they’re into The One Quackery To Rule Them All, homeopathy, and they’re into it hard. Not only are they presenting an eConference on homeopathy, but they’ve been writing paeans of praise to homeopathy, including Homeopathy at Home and The Healing Power of Homeopathy.

Crank magnetism. It lives.