I don’t think I mentioned this, but I’m on a bit of a staycation this week. I figured, what the heck? After coming home from Skepticon I could do with a little R&R. Of course, fool that I am, I still can’t resist blogging a bit. On the other hand, the day before Thanksgiving I realize I should dial it back a bit and keep it brief. Everyone in the US (which, sorry, international readers, still make up the vast majority of my readers) is generally busy getting ready and might not have time for checking in with their favorite blogs, particularly blogs of bloggers known for their logorrhea, as I am. Besides, brevity is not what I normally do; so challenging myself is sometimes a good thing. Also, there’s a rather large topic I have to take on for my not-so-secret other blog on Monday, and I’m sure I’ll have something to observe on Friday.
In the meantime, I saw a fun little bit of whimsy from Edzard Ernst that he calls Who wants to join in the fun and play BULLSHIT BINGO with me? Basically, it’s an example of the most convoluted pseudoscientific language written in support of or about alternative medicine modalities. Kimball Atwood used to have a term for it, too. He called it the Weasel Words of Woo. Ernst’s rationale was as follows:
One thing that has often irritated me – alright, I admit it: sometimes it even infuriated me – is the pseudoscientific language of authors writing about alternative medicine. Reading publications in this area often seems to me like being in the middle of a game of ‘bullshit bingo’ (I am afraid that some of the commentators on this blog have importantly contributed to this phenomenon). In an article of 2004, I once discussed this issue in some detail and concluded that “… pseudo-scientific language … can be seen as an attempt to present nonsense as science…this misleads patients and can thus endanger their health…” For this paper, I had focussed on examples from the ‘bioresonance’- literature – more by coincidence than by design, I should add. I could have selected any other alternative treatment or diagnostic method; the use of pseudoscientific language is truly endemic in alternative medicine.
No kidding. I used to have a whole weekly feature that more or less “celebrated”—OK, mocked—examples of this tendency. Unbelievably, it ran for a few years, pretty much every Friday, and I called it Your Friday Dose of Woo. In any case, Ernst’s post, which you really should read because it has five hilarious examples of pseudoscientific nonsense, “inspired” me to look for some of my favorite examples of such language that I’ve encountered over the years.
Of course, any such “contest” would be nothing without at least one entry from Lionel Milgrom. Here we have, from an astounding paper that I encountered years ago:
My favorite quote:
Quantum theory’s notions of non-locality and entanglement have previously informed attempts to model the therapeutic process. Of these, Weak Quantum Theory (WQT) and Patient- Practitioner-Remedy (PPR) entanglement are developing into mathematically- based models of homeopathy. Objective: The present study attempted to identify fundamental concepts within quantum field theory (QFT) that could be used to broaden the scope of PPR entanglement models, prior to constructing a more rigorous mathematical treatment. Methods: In QFT, particles and forces are considered as fully interacting relativistic quantum matter and force fields, respectively. These interactions are visualized graphically as spacetime Feynman diagrams. Further, these interacting field systems can have ground states with broken symmetry; the so-called Higgs field being responsible for this symmetry breaking. In the new model, patient, practitioner and remedy are imagined as fully interacting quantum-like fields; patients and practitioners in terms of quantum matter-type fields, and remedies and diseases as quantum interaction-type fields. Results: Disease manifestation by the Vital Force (Vf) could be an event similar to spontaneous symmetry breaking in QFT: the curative remedy acting to restore the broken symmetry of the Vf field. Entanglement between patient, practitioner, and remedy might be representable as Feynman-like diagrams. Conclusion: QFT demonstrates that quantum properties can be physical without being observable. Thus, an underlying similarity in discourse could exist between homeopathy and quantum theory which could be useful for modelling the homeopathic process. This preliminary investigation also suggested that key elements of previous quantum models of the homeopathic process, may become unified within this new QFT-type approach.
Ha! Top that, if you can! Oh, wait. Milgrom can. He always can, as I learned long ago:
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, Nov 2006, Vol. 12, No. 9 : 915-929
Lionel R. Milgrom, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., R.S.Hom.
Department of Chemistry, Imperial College London, London, UK.
In this paper, Milgrom even takes the term “vital force” (you know, the “life energy” that the vitalistic nature of homeopathy ascribes to life, much like the qi of traditional Chinese medicine) and makes an actual mathematical variable out of it, Vf. Then woo ensues:
Based on this conjecture, it has been possible to develop a model of the Vf as if it behaved like a gyroscopic entity. This began life as a qualitative metaphor that used the well known properties of gyroscopes to illustrate the actions of the Vf in response to disease and remedies.18 Thus, once its flywheel is set spinning at high speed, a real gyroscope stands erect with respect to the Earth’s gravitational field and will strongly resist any external lateral forces that try to topple the gyroscope…A healthy Vf may be likened to a fully upright gyroscope with a rapidly spinning flywheel. Lateral forces, therefore, are akin to those stressors that can push the organism into disease states that are resisted easily by a healthy Vf and thrown off centrifugally to the organism’s extremities. Acute disease expression may be likened to the wobbling of the Vf gyroscope after being acted upon by a strong force, prior to the Vf gyroscope resuming its healthy upright stance. A weaker Vf, however, is more like a gyroscope whose flywheel has slowed down so that it is less stable in an upright position. In this situation, the Vf is less able to resist those stressors that push the organism over into disease states. Consequently, the Vf begins to precess (i.e., express symptoms of disease): The greater the amount of precession, the more chronic the disease state and the greater its symptom expression will be. And the slower the Vf gyroscope’s “flywheel” spins, the less able it is to throw off the disease.
Within this qualitative metaphor, the therapeutic homeopathic remedy can be seen as that force that, when applied to the Vf gyroscope’s flywheel, causes it to speed up, spin faster, and throw off the disease state. Also, the term “diseased” may be applied to those inherited and environmental stressors that could exert a braking effect on the Vf gyroscope’s flywheel. These would include constitutional factors that could give rise to “friction in the bearings” (e.g., inherited imperfections in the Vf gyroscope’s manufacture) and environmental factors giving rise to “friction on the flywheel” (e.g., poor diet, housing, and air quality, and dysfunctional relationships, etc.)
Wow. Just wow.
I’ll limit myself to three, finishing with (of course!) the EPFX / QXCI Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface:
The EPFX/QXCI is a state of the art evoked potential bio-feedback system for stress detection and stress reduction, designed by a Complementary Health Practitioner, Professor Bill Nelson. See his article, “The EPFX and The Verbal Mind”.
During testing, the EPFX/QXCI device resonates with thousands of tissues, organs, nutrients, toxins and allergens for one hundredth of a second each, and records the degree to which your body reacts. This type of rapid testing is known as the Xrroid process.
The stress of living in today’s environmentally complicated world can lead to many pressures upon the body system. These stresses often result in a lowered immune system, chronic pain, low performance, depression, insomnia and emotional ups and downs. The EPFX/QXCI is an extraordinary device that can help balance the over-stressed body system. Through its approach it can tabulate your system’s adrenal level, its ability to heal, the flow of energy through your system, levels of water and oxygen in your body, as well as your cellular health. It measures thousands of different parameters of your body system including spinal energy flow and toxicity. The EPFX/QXCI can help correct underlying causes of allergies, food sensitivities, weight gain, digestive and bowel problems, stress, fatigue, insomnia, depression, arthritis, skin problems, headaches and migraines. Best of all, it can not only read these imbalances, but it can help correct them because it works on 20 separate channels simultaneously, talking back and forth with your body, making corrections as it goes. All corrections are made through the skin — nothing is internal. And it does this — not through bio-chemistry, the way of traditional medicine – but through bio-physics! This is quantum mechanics — once the physics of the body is balanced, the chemistry follows of its own accord. The EPFX/QXCI has an accuracy founded in 20 years of research in the field of biofeedback medicine. The EPFX/QXCI scans the body and assists in detailed assessment, helping to correct the body via homeopathic bio-resonance auto frequencies. The treatments and tests are noninvasive and relaxing! The program enhances clients’ general health, increases wellness through awareness, improves performance, increases energy levels, relaxes and decreases stress.
Your task, should you decide to accept it, is to see if you can show me examples of this sort of extravagant pseudoscientific language that equal or top the three examples I provided above. If I like any of them enough, particularly if they’re associated with a target topic worthy of an installment of Your Friday Dose of Woo, you might just see it there sometime soon.
So go on! See if you can show me that you can destroy a bovine excrement meter!
And happy Thanksgiving!