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The decline of pseudoscience? More like the mainstreaming of pseudoscience

As hard as it is to believe, I’ve been spending a significant part of my time countering pseudoscience for close to 17 years, so long that it seems that I’ve always been doing it. Of course, that’s not true; I didn’t actually become involved in this seemingly never-ending Sisyphean task until I was in my mid-30s, which means that the majority of my life had been spent more or less blissfully ignorant that there are people out there who passionately believe, for example, that vaccines are dangerous and cause autism and that bleach enemas can reverse that autism or that there were quacks out there who advocate slapping yourself silly until you have bruises all over to treat, well, just about anything. And so it is with the vast majority of people out there, including physicians, who by and large know on a superficial level that a lot of what is part of “integrative medicine” involves the “integration” of quackery into medicine but don’t know on a deeper, visceral level what, exactly, that means. Yes, being a skeptic, as rewarding as it is, can often be a lonely calling.

Periodically, over the course of my now lengthy history of doing my best to push back against the tide of unreason, I’ve wondered what the situation was. Are we being drowned in a wave of pseudoscience, or is what we skeptics do helping to hold it at bay? What got me thinking about this again, as I do every so often, is an article by Phoebe Maltz Bovy published in The New Republic, entitled The Decline of Pseudoscience, with a subtitle that read: “Now that ‘natural’ living has gone mainstream, its days are numbered.” It’s exactly the sort of op-ed that’s comforting, making the sort of argument that I’d love to believe. After all, why wouldn’t I (or you or any other skeptic) not want to believe that the tide is finally turning, that the seemingly endless swamp of pseudoscience and quackery through which we slog day in and day out is on the verge of being drained? No wonder I saw this shared by several of my friends on Facebook and showing up in several Twitter feeds that I follow.

Unfortunately, it’s almost certainly exactly the opposite. Now that “natural” has gone “mainstream,” if anything, it’s become more profitable than ever, which means that it’s going nowhere. It’s actually a bizarre argument that’s worth looking at mainly because of its excessive optimism and confidence that nonsense is going anywhere coupled with not being clear on the concept what is pseudoscience and what is not coupled with a conflation of trendy lifestyle choices with pseudoscience. Basically, Bovy’s entire argument boils down to the first three short paragraphs, with the rest of the article consisting attempts to support a thesis that is questionable at best, totally wrong at worst:

Have we reached peak green juice? The New York Times’ Brooks Barnes suggests as much in a recent story about what a haute-hippie refuge in California is bringing to an already over-saturated market:

With every mini-mall, gas station and gym in Los Angeles now boasting a juice bar, or so it seems, the truly cutting-edge folks need to raise the ante to the point of ridiculousness. Kale-avocado-dandelion-cucumber-caraway-seed-jalapeño-heirloom-pear smoothie? Snore.

When the “Style” section not only identifies a trend, but deems it passé, it’s a safe bet it has indeed run its course. But it’s not just glorified cold vegetable soup that’s lost its allure. The pseudoscience that persists more generally in America is losing its cultural cachet.

The story to which Bovy refers describes the Springs, an urban oasis where, according to a waitress there, “You can eat dinner — everything is raw, vegan, organic, soy free and gluten free — and then have your colon cleansed right through that door!” (I suppose you can consider it a full service vegan GI treatment.) One of the features at the Springs is drink made with Pürblack (because naming something with umlauts is always cooler than not), something I had never heard of before and apparently a mineral resin scraped off Himalayan rocks. Supposedly, before swallowing, you’re supposed to swish it around in your mouth to let the extract’s “healing properties” absorb through your gums. The humorous hook in the article was that apparently this drink tastes really bad, having been compared unfavorably to bong water.

There’s no doubt that the Springs is a woo-ey place indeed, as a perusal of its website indicates very rapidly. For instance, its “wellness center” offers something called Gravity Colon Hydrotherapy (quackery), which is described as “the equivalent of giving your colon a deep cleansing bath,” complete with claims of “removing toxins” and “strengthening the immune system” (my colon is quite happy the way it is most of the time, with the possible exception of after a heavy meal of spicy Mexican food, thank you very much); craniosacral therapy massage (which is also pure quackery); infrared sauna (more quackery); reiki (faith healing); and a wide variety of other “wellness” quackery.

To be honest, I’m just not seeing how a hippy dippy raw vegan restaurant coupled to a woo-filled “wellness” center designed to cater to hip and trendy denizens of Los Angeles and environs being dismissed as passe by the NYT Style section provides evidence that the decline in popularity of pseudoscience is upon us. Indeed, Bovy neglects to mention that, according to the NYT Style article she cited, is a “smash hit” among Angelenos who are into this sort of thing and already turning a profit after only six months in operation, which is very impressive for any new restaurant or spa. If anything, the example chosen seems to argue that, whatever the NYT Style section published about it, dismissive or not (and to my reading it was not), the Springs is a big hit. Moreover, it’s not really any more “woo-ey” than any number of “wellness centers” in LA or elsewhere. Hell, I know of at least two such “wellness centers” with offerings every bit as quacky as those of the Springs within walking distance of my house. (OK, one of them would be a pretty long walk, but it’s still quite doable.)

Heck, just Google “vegan restaurant” and “wellness center,” and you’ll see that the Springs is hardly unique. Lots of articles about the Springs pop up, but there are also links to, for example, Coco Green’s Vegan Cafe and Wellness Center, a vegan restaurant and “detox center” in Nashville, TN; the Sol D’Licious Wholistic Cafe in Wisconsin; and the El Ameyal Hotel & Wellness Center in Cabo San Lucas. There aren’t a lot of them, but, based on the success of the Springs, unfortunately, I suspect there soon will be.

The second part of Bovy’s argument seems to be that, although pseudoscience such as what’s peddled at the Springs and other such places became status signifiers to which mainstream America aspired, such that:

“Healthy” living became associated with being upper class, and therefore glamorous. The pseudoscience embraced by the rich—a group who also have superior access to actual healthy living, as in proper medical care, safe places to exercise, and so forth—is now, in turn, marketed to the rest of the population.

I actually don’t disagree with this part. There’s little doubt that “lifestyle” woo such as that epitomized by the Springs now did “trickle down, so that the masses now have access to it, sold and commoditized by companies like Whole Foods. I even partially agree with this:

But the backlash has begun. As Freeman noted, “a new genre of journalism has risen up in response to a growing trend,” consisting of articles “debunking quacky pseudoscience bloggers.” She cited Belle Gibson, the clean-eating blogger who cured what turned out to be non-existent cancer, and Vani “Food Babe” Hari, who also turns out to be full of something other than organic strawberry, as examples of discredited advice-givers. Freeman might have also mentioned Dr. Oz, and indeed does discuss him in a later column. Photogenic men, and photogenic people with medical expertise, have also entered the pseudoscience game, and it’s just as much fun to watch their downfalls. That said, there is a gender dimension to this issue, given the tremendous (if often unstated) overlap between dubious health advice and beauty tips.

A gender issue there might well be, but I would argue that it’s not the amount of pseudoscience where there’s a gender issue but in the types of pseudoscience. Yes, the “wellness” movement might have a larger female component, but from my vantage point tend to fall for sports-, car-, and electronics-related pseudoscience in a manner that women do not. Whether that’s true or not, however, Bovy’s next confident assertion grates on me, because I’m pretty darned sure it’s not true:

Why the shift toward reason? The scientific evidence against quack theories is hardly new, after all. I suspect there are two related reasons for the decline of pseudoscience: an increase in awareness, and a decrease in trendiness.

As pseudoscience has become more popular, the threat it sometimes poses—not just to oneself, but to society at large—has become more widely known. The measles outbreaks has caused genuine, legitimate fear, inspiring otherwise apolitical parents to rail against anti-vaxxers and the celebrities, like Jenny McCarthy, who inspire them. Meanwhile, exposed fraudsters have bred disillusionment. Popular lifestyle blogger “The Blonde Vegan” revealed that she wasn’t extra-healthy but actually suffering from orthorexia; she gave up veganism (if not snake-oil peddling) and now calls herself “The Balanced Blonde.” Then there’s Dr. Oz, whose high profile quackery recently inspired ten fellow doctors to ask Columbia University to fire him, and now Oprah’s also done with him. When controversies like these get publicity, it reminds all of us, tastemakers included, that actions taken in the name of health can be detrimental to wellbeing.

Nutritional pseudoscience may be the first to fall. The ingredient-purity obsession has inspired a backlash from people citing the social benefits of notturning every meal into an ingredient-by-ingredient research project.

While I will concede that, over the decade that I’ve been blogging, there has been a salutary change in media reporting of some forms of pseudoscience. For instance, it’s clear to me that many journalists have abandoned the “tell both sides” narrative that is fine if you’re talking about politics but not so fine when discussing pseudoscience versus science. After all, in science some things are just plain wrong, such as antivaccine pseudoscience, and “telling both sides” is a trope akin to including the viewpoint of a flat earth believer in a story about geology or the viewpoint of a moon hoaxer in stories about space exploration. Although I don’t have quantitative data to back it up, my overall impression is that these days it’s much less common to include the antivaccine viewpoint in stories about vaccines than it was in 2005, when I first started paying attention to these things.

What if I told The Food Babe...
What if I told The Food Babe…

That being said, however, I see no difference in the prevalence of pseudoscientific nonsense. Indeed, if anything, I can’t help but think it’s probably somewhat more prevalent than it was when I first started blogging in 2004. In fact, for some quacks, any publicity is good publicity. A great example of this is The Food Babe, the nom de quack (or should I say nom du canard?) of a former computer analyst turned “food activist” named Vani Hari. Yes, I’ve been highly critical. Science Babe has been highly critical. Many bloggers and now mainstream reporters have written some very unflattering things about her in critical articles in the press. Yet companies keep caving to her pseudoscientific quackmail, in which she demonizes chemicals in food based on how “yucky” they sound to her or how difficult their chemical names are to pronounce. Kraft is the most recent company to cave, and Chipotle recently decided to remove GMOs from its menu. Meanwhile, Panera announced yesterday that it’s now “on a journey to remove all artificial preservatives, colors, sweeteners, and flavors from the food in our bakery-cafes by the end of 2016,” complete with a video showing people having difficulty pronouncing the names of certain food ingredients:

The stupid, it truly burns. It’s thermonuclear in intensity. I feel like Mance Rayder in the first episode of this season of Game of Thrones crying for release as the flames engulf me. The add even concludes with this blurb:

If the ingredients in your food are unpronounceable we believe they shouldn’t be in your food.

I know how Mance Rayder feels if those flames are flames of burning stupid.
Orac knows how Mance Rayder feels if those flames are flames of burning stupid. Think of The Food Babe as Melisandre with dark hair.

It’s as though Panera Bread has internalized the most idiotic of the many idiotic Food Babe messages that if you can’t pronounce it you shouldn’t eat it and turned it into an equally idiotic advertisement. Hell, Panera even basically stole her catch phrase, tarted it up a little, and turned it into an advertising slogan! If, as Bovy argues, Food Babe-style nutritional pseudoscience is on the way out,, then why is it that The Food Babe seemingly more popular and influential than ever. Whether the “Food Babe Army” had anything to do with this decision or not, The Food Babe is crowing over these new victories.

As for the antivaccine movement, yes, the Disneyland measles outbreak, the most famous of a number of outbreaks that have occurred over the last couple of years largely because of pockets of unvaccinated children exist, did produce a backlash. There might even be state laws passed to tighten up the requirements for nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine mandates or, in the case of California, to remove them altogether. Yet none of this has stopped the inevitable antivaccine backlash cloaked in appeals to “freedom” and “parental rights” that have spewed forth from the mouths of even mainstream politicians blowing the antivaccine dog whistle.

Then there’s the Dr. Oz incident. As you recall, ten doctors did indeed write an article to Columbia University’s dean in essence asking him to fire Oz because of his peddling of anti-GMO pseudoscience and medical quackery on his show. Unfortunately, as I predicted, their letter, although it did garner some negative publicity for Oz, ended up backfiring spectacularly as Oz fired back with the predictable “shill gambit,” a gambit made all the more effective because several of the doctors who signed the letter were arguably industry shills, particularly the those associated with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Because these doctors were so eager to frame their criticism as having a lot to do with Oz’s occasional anti-GMO segment (such segments are a small part of Oz’s crimes against science) rather than his medical quackery, all Oz had to do was to paint himself as in favor of “more information,” tar his opponents as industry shills (easily done), and claim to be “fighting for you,” and the substantive criticisms got lost. The battle became one of industry shills trying to “silence” Dr. Oz because he had dared to gore the sacred cow of GMOs. The whole publicity stunt was a spectacular failure. Never mind that Dr. Oz himself has been caught looking for some sweet, sweet shilling opportunities from Sony and others.

I’m inclined to agree with my good bud, chemist Joe Schwarcz:

Joe Schwarcz, director of the Office for Science and Society at McGill University in Montreal, predicts the recent criticism will boost the careers of both Oz and Hari, even if their claims and arguments don’t always hold scientific water.

“In the quackery business, any publicity is good, it doesn’t matter if it’s criticism,” says Schwarcz, who is among Hari’s critics.

“She’ll be more popular than ever. So will Oz,” he predicts.

Exactly. Bovy’s article is nothing but an exercise in wishful thinking. The battle against pseudoscience and quackery won’t be won so easily. It’s a battle that will last generations, with victories and losses and momentary fluctuations. Arguably, it’s a battle that can’t be won as long as human brains have the cognitive quirks that predispose them to believe in superstition and pseudoscience, but if we take the long view working to counter unreason is still a worthwhile endeavor if only for the consumer protection aspect alone. It’s also a good thing that more and more mainstream news outlets are becoming more critical of quackery and pseudoscience. But evidence of the “decline of pseudoscience”? There’s no way we can say that until many years have passed, because this could just be a brief positive blip in favor of reason, and already the forces of unreason are rallying.

Be that as it may, Bovy seems to think that the co-optation of pseudoscience by corporate America and its “trickling” down from woo-ey elites on the coasts like Gwyneth Paltrow to large mainstream companies like Panera is a good thing because it means that Paltrow and her ilk will view it as no longer cutting edge hip and cool, thus resulting in a backlash. This is nothing more than even more wishful thinking disconnected from reality. The type of people who go for the Springs will just move on to another form of pseudoscience. In practical terms what this mainstreaming of pseudoscience means is that pseudoscience has become such good marketing that companies now embrace it as a sales tool or a means of distinguishing themselves from their competitors, just as hospitals embrace more and more outlandish ways of “integrating” quackery in order to show they are “holistic” and, yes, distinguish themselves from their competitors.

Just watch that Panera video again if you don’t believe me. I predict it is just “trailblazer” and that there will be many more.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

152 replies on “The decline of pseudoscience? More like the mainstreaming of pseudoscience”

Okay. I had to know what the fuck Pürblack actually is.

It’s a brand name for shilajit, which is also known as mumijo.

It’s used in ayurvedic practice.

There are no independent studies confirming any medicinal effects.

And the name of that brand is simply silly. Why an ü? I guess the though ‘Pureblack’ was too mundane. It quite reminds me of the ‘heavy metal umlaut’. Look that one up on tv tropes at your own peril.

Of course there will always be pseudoscience, for the reasons you mentioned. I have been following pseudoscience much shorter than you- a few years- but I noticed an incredible pro-science backlash in the past few months. Food Babe has taken a beating. Oz has taken a beating. Chipotle is getting blasted in the media. Anti-vaxxers are being ostracized like racists. This has been great fun to watch.

Perhaps Dr. Oz and Food Babe will emerge stronger, though I I am not so sure.

But will anyone emerge to take the place of Food Babe and Dr. Oz? Will another A-list celebrity come out as anti-vaccine? If so, they must know their pseudoscience will not go unquestioned for long before an army of pro-science bloggers and meme-makers mock and ridicule them. Good.

Organic, a pure form of quackery, has been consistently growing at a double digit rate, even through the recession. Until organic sales drop, it will be hard for anyone to claim that pseudoscience and quackery are on the way out.

I have to agree that pseudoscience isn’t going anywhere; for that to happen, there would have be a fundamental shift in how people approach problems, i.e. they would have to start using their brains. Sadly, that’s just not going to happen in a lot of cases.

However, there are positive signs. Take Chipotle’s recent announcement, which was greeted by cheers from the anti-GMO crowd, but was also quickly denounced in a bunch of major publications: the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, NPR, Time — heck, even MOTHER JONES, that venerable haven of poor thinking, took them to task, pronouncing GMOs “totally safe to eat”.

Here’s the other thing that makes me hopeful: the supporters of science have become much more galvanized. There is a long history of believing “the facts will speak for themselves” and refusing to engage with the peddlers of quackery, as if it would demean science to take anything but the high road. But increasing, there are more bloggers such as yourself willing to speak out — at great length, in, ahem, some cases — in favor of science. There are more people like SciBabe (motto: “come for the science, stay for the dirty jokes”) and the Food Hunk who are working to make science SEXY, for the lack of a better word. And the power of social media gives voice to those who love reason and rationality just as easily as it does to those who do not, and some of us are very, very pissed off about how badly science has been treated. Go to the Anti-Vax Wall of Shame for some great examples of how to laugh through the pain of dealing with the lunatic fringe.

On television, yes, we still have Oz, and we still have Maher, but we also have Jimmy Kimmel, who revels in mocking the stupidity of the organic lifestyle and openly laughs at the anti-vax nutjobs. John Oliver is enormously popular, and typically on the right side of rationality, as is (or was, now) John Stewart. These are a newer breed of personalities, who are willing, even eager, to use their influence for the good.

So while pseudoscience isn’t going anywhere, I think the potential for it to be contained is there, because it is easier than ever to mock it. And in the end, mocking is a better strategy than education, because the kind of people who don’t want to learn, want even less to be seen as ridiculous.

The humorous hook in the article was that apparently this drink tastes really bad, having been compared unfavorably to bong water.

If something tastes really really vile, it should at least contain 40% alcohol.

Bovy’s take on that restaurant reminds me of Yogi Berra’s famous remark about a night spot or something: “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded!”

Seriously disappointed in Panera.

I do have two minds about Panera (which is so typical of me, sigh)

On the one hand I think it is all about marketing and pandering.

On the other hand I do think the more we can get people to eat minimally processed foods rather than flavor-enhanced and artificially colored the better.

Now sometimes the flavor-enhanced, artificially-colored food is also nutrient dense, phytochemical rich with appropriate macro nutrient balance, but mostly it just makes junk taste good enough you will eat it. I do wonder if eating too much of that junk ends up making actual food less palatable (so reinforces eating more junk as after awhile non-junk just doesn’t taste right).

I seem to recall a study where enough people eat enough artificial flavors their palate/brain starts to think the artificial is the correct flavor and the actual food it is supposed to mimic starts to seem to be the wrong flavor for that food.

So while I think they are doing it for all the wrong reasons I do think the more we can get train people to prefer the flavor of food rather junk maybe we can get people to eat a bit more nutritious food on a regular basis as they get used to that taste rather than whatever flavor profile industry can use to get us to eat more of what isn’t good for us.

This sounds like the old complaint that nobody goes to that restaurant anymore because it’s too crowded.

@1 Thank you for that information. I find that I absolutely cannot ingest this substance. It contains phospholipids, which I am unable to pronounce.

Why an ü? I guess the though ‘Pureblack’ was too mundane. It quite reminds me of the ‘heavy metal umlaut’.

I noticed that, too. It doesn’t fit so well with the image they are trying to project. It comes off more like that classic Onion article, “Ünited Stätes Toughens Image With Umlauts“.

“You can eat dinner — everything is raw, vegan, organic, soy free and gluten free — and then have your colon cleansed right through that door!”

She says that like it’s a good thing. Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m eating, I prefer not to think about what comes out the other end.

If the ingredients in your food are unpronounceable we believe they shouldn’t be in your food.

There may be good reasons for removing ingredients from food, but this isn’t one of them. Among other things, it brings up the question: unpronounceable to whom? I recall a commercial from the late 1970s, riffing on the then-prevalent “Why Can’t Johnny Read” mania, which showed six- to eight-year-old kids trying to read the ingredients lists of various food products and tripping on some of the longer words, e.g., “polysorbate-80”. Panera is playing to exactly the same thing, except they are explicitly calling their customers morons: a well-educated adult native English speaker should be able to read those ingredients, whereas it’s understandable for a child, or a foreigner (whose native language may not have certain phonemes–English has more than most), to have trouble with those unfamiliar long words.

Traditional western medicine is based mostly on pseudoscience. All science is open to being questioned. Each day, we learn more, and retract our old “facts.” I’m in research and a health professional of the traditional sort, so save your hate speech. If you don’t fully understand something, it doesn’t make it quackery or pseudoscience. Many (most) of our most impressive treatment modalities have been discovered in nature, then refined, and reproduced in the laboratory. Beyond that, pharmaceutical medicine isn’t the only, or even best way to deal with disease. Were you to delve into health research, you would see that we are researching and utilizing successfully, nutritional strategies to cure, reverse, and prevent many illnesses, physical and mental. Visit the NIH online sometime. The scientific method begins with asking questions and postulating ideas. Thinking outside the box, and being open to things that have not yet been discovered is how we learn, grow, invent, and ultimately cure. You are quick to judge and assume. I’m hopeful you are not in a position of research or any actual power in society. That’s probably a safe assumption based on your rhetoric. More, I am hopeful those who read your blog see you for what you really are uninformed and grossly opinionated beyond your education and experience.

What sort of “health professional of the traditional sort” are you? Naturopath? Practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine? Homeopath? I’m more than happy to discuss the evidence with respect to pretty much any modality.

Nor am I “quick to judge and assume.” My opinions with respect to “natural medicine” have been evolving for at least 17 years. For instance, I used to think there was something to acupuncture until around 8 years ago, when I actually started looking closely at the studies published in —yes—the peer reviewed medical literature about acupuncture. Doing so led me to realize that acupuncture is indeed no more than an elaborate placebo. That’s changing one’s mind. I’d also bet that my education and experience exceed yours.

The three ingredients most likely to kill you at Panera can be pronounced by your average second grader. We should really start a movement to get them to remove them- I’m sure they would still have a sustainable business plan after removing sugar, fat, and salt- right?

JLNIH, Are you in for a heap of feedback.
Claims unsupported by evidence: Aneoplastins, Gersons, acupuncture, bleach enemas, anti-vaxcination, etc.

Evidence is required, not good feelings.

@Ellie

Who can’t pronounce phospholipids? Or is that your point?
——-
How about calling for reform in labeling that allows listing things by their common names instead of their chemical names? In many cases, this would make much of an ingredient list more pronounceable for the less educated.

As to Panera, or Chipotle, who eats at these places? They are ful of the same calorie dense food as any other place, in fact a lot of their food has more calories than the traditional fast food outlets. But I forget myself–calories don’t matter as long as it’s an organic GMO-free calorie, right? And why eat kale salad when you can drink kale, avocado, blah, blah juice until you gag?

I will mention, however, that I dislike the tendency to equate veganism with pseudosicence. There is overlap, of course, but some of us go vegan for philosophical/moral reasons and because it’s a simple way to reduce calories and avoid many of the excesses of the meat industry in terms of animal treatment and environmental issues like water use. (And I’m not saying I NEVER have an egg or a bit of cheese or a speck of bacon in a salad–one does not have to be anal about a dietary choice).

Unfortunately, there is a whole lot of vegan woo, particularly raw vegan diets. It’s there, and it’s represented as the cure for almost everything. It’s also not just in raw vegan cafes like the Springs. Hell, it’s promoted in “integrative medicine” in a lot of places; i.e., by Dean Ornish.

Traditional western medicine is based mostly on pseudoscience.

You contradict yourself with the rest of your comment.

All science is open to being questioned. Each day, we learn more, and retract our old “facts.”

Well duh, that’s the point of research.

I’m hopeful you are not in a position of research or any actual power in society. That’s probably a safe assumption based on your rhetoric. More, I am hopeful those who read your blog see you for what you really are uninformed and grossly opinionated beyond your education and experience.

You arrogant twit; you don’t even know the author’s background but make ridiculous assumptions based on butthurt. The fact is is that most here are educated professionals in science, medicine, engineering, etc. and can spot a sanctimonious, pseudoscience boot-licker like you a mile away.

Actually, I would almost agree with JLNIH. Traditional “Western” medicine is mostly based on pseudoscience, just like traditional Chinese medicine. After all, traditional Western medicine includes bloodletting, purges, the idea that disease comes from imbalances in the four humors, and other prescientific ideas as wacky as those behind TCM.

Science-based medicine, of course, is nothing like either traditional “Western” or “Eastern” medicine.

I don’t understand why you’re answering, Orac. You should be busy delving in to health research, or visiting the NIH online.

I have some medical quackery devices in my collection of medical antiques. They’re fun to pull out to show the kinds of silliness people believed 100 years or so ago.

I think we got away from a lot of quackery when the FDA first came about and had some actual teeth. The deaths of children in the Septra case didn’t hurt public opinion for reasonable regulation. And science itself enjoyed a much better reputation than it does now.

Years of the war on science and the decline of the scientist as respected expert are what’s fueling this rebirth of open and mainstream quackery.

We need a Carl Sagan for medicine: someone who can connect with the public in a convincing way, and make science cool again.

@ Nicole #14: let’s not forget water. Maybe if we relabeled it dihydrogen monoxide, that would get people’s attention.

Hilariously, whilst the woo-centric name their establishment The Springs, instantly bringing to mind a pristine mountain oasis of purity and sparkling cleanliness, Orac describes slogging through the swamp of pseudoscience. Tell me about it.

– Yes, woo frequently permeates women’s magazines and health/ beauty supply stores in an alarming way: every issue of Vogue, no matter from which fashion capitol it originates, seems to be rife with the stuff whether it involves general health, dietary considerations, highly specialised exercise, skin care or other weighty concerns. Some of it tests the imagination. A brief leafing through a current issue reveals the confessions of a spa ‘virgin’ and an article praising fermented foods, mostly fish.

– I personally began sceptically monitoring woo – while stifling my laughter- in the early 1990s by attending New Age presentations about spirituality, healing, yoga, tai chi, diet and crystals/ magic stones ( of all things). Usually, there was a lecture, a class or a demonstration followed by a barrage of balderdash. I even had my aura read in front of a roomful of believers in a university auditorium: supposedly, I have an extremely attractive one that precisely illustrates my remarkable talents and independent spirit. Or so they tell me.

– HOWEVER my adventures in the Dead Marshes of Unreasonability really began around the turn of the millennium when I chanced upon a radio broadcast that provided the answer to all health concerns through veganism by proclaiming that, in effect, life was “like a beanstalk” ** . All ills could be prevented or cured and longevity could be secured by following a few simple rules that forever forbade animal products, wheat, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, most cooked foods and a laundry list of taboo substances as one exercised religiously daily, dutifully swallowed handfuls of supplements, steadfastly meditated and persued the spiritual instead of the worldly. A person’s true lifespan should be 150 years, not a mere 80, but most people are DOING IT RONG, so they’d better listen up and straighten up and fly right.

– Although my active pursuit of woo has taken as many twists and turns as antivax advocates’ theories concerning why vaccines cause autism, I feel that perhaps there is a now mainstreaming effect: what might have once been arcane knowledge, restricting only to the alternative initiates years ago, is now splashed all over the place and sold from every food market and beauty supply store. It’s bigger business than ever.

One consolation however is that recently mainstream media seems to become more aware of potentially dangerous woo like non-vaccination. I’m afraid though that there will not be non-proliferation of the dietary stuff because it is becoming so linked with corporate profits and imagery. “We sell healthy food not junk”, they crow. That’s not entirely a bad thing but is it really true? I wonder.

** No wait, that was Procol Harum

This article somewhat hits home for me, as I was a produce manager at a Whole Foods a few years back. The amount of woo flying around is literally astounding, with the employees promoting everything under the sun. And they recommend them to customers too; although it’s always “off the record”, of course. I left to go back to school and am applying to medical schools this June. I don’t think it should come as a surprise that the friendly atmosphere disappeared entirely when I told them why I was quitting. I did my best to counter it all when I had interactions with customers, however.

It’s very disappointing to me how many vegans are so heavily into pseudoscience. I’ve been vegan for a decade and I have deliberately avoided associating with most others precisely because of that. It seems just having personal moral reasons isn’t good enough. They have to prosthelytize and tout outlandish health benefits. It’s another reason I never bring up being vegan to anyone; I don’t want to be lumped in with them!

“The battle against pseudoscience and quackery won’t be won so easily. It’s a battle that will last generations, with victories and losses and momentary fluctuations.”

Ah, the old warfare metaphor. I suggest you leave that one to pseudoscience and religion. Science does not require jihad.

I believe a little mockery, some gentle humor, and a pinch of marketing (propaganda) works wonders for both Woo’s and Corporate-types to open hearts (and minds) to evidence and critical thinking.

Traditional “Western” medicine is mostly based on pseudoscience, just like traditional Chinese medicine.

Very true however I doubt JLNIH was making that distinction in his/her condemnation given that s/he referred to his/herself as a “traditional” healthcare professional.

The other day I felt like going for a long-a** walk, so I walked like halfway to Ypsilanti, and stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way home to pick up a couple things. There’s a big sign in there now that says: “If it says Trader Joe’s, that means no G.M.O.s!” Grumble… I mean, I gave half a thought to boycotting Chipotle over the anti-GMO nonsense, but sometimes you just need a Mission-style burrito the size of your head.

So yeah, I mean, I think some of the ranker pseudoscience, like anti-vax stuff, is finally getting the public shaming it deserves, but food woo in particular is at an all-time high, anti-GMO sentiment in particular. And it’s just about impossible to have a rational discussion about it with most people – the “antis” have been way too successful with their emotional appeals and fear-mongering, and even Joe Average has a head full of Monsatan and fishmatoes now.

@ Science Mom:

Oddly enough, I have heard TWO separate usages of the word *traditional* by alt med proselytisers :
– as in traditional Chinese medicine ( woo)
– ALSO to refer to non-alternative standard health care ( SBM)! Believe it or not! Because OBVIOUSLY to those riding the tsunami of paradigm shift, medicine looks traditional and probably habitual as well.

But then, these people usually don’t know what they’re talking about anyway.

@ JP:

There’s a book about a mental hospital called IIRC The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

“Traditional western medicine is based mostly on pseudoscience.”
“Western medicine” versus “Eastern medicine” is an false dichotomy, JLNIH: there’s simply medicine-treatments that have been shown to work–and everything else.

“ If you don’t fully understand something, it doesn’t make it quackery or pseudoscience.”
Agreed: it’s instead the lack of evidence that something is effective which makes it quackery (e.g., acupuncture), and that we understand something well enough to state with certainty it cannot work by the mechanism proposed (e.g., homeopathy) which makes it pseudoscience.

“Many (most) of our most impressive treatment modalities have been discovered in nature, then refined, and reproduced in the laboratory.”
And for each of these modalities there’s a robust body of evidence characterizing safety and demonstrating efficacy.

“Beyond that, pharmaceutical medicine isn’t the only, or even best way to deal with disease.”
Which diseases, under what circumstances? Preventing a disease is of course always preferable (i.e., “better”) to addressing it once acquired, but in many cases pharmaceutical medicine is the only or best way to deal with diseases once they’ve been acquired. (Consider drug intervention to treat HIV infection, which has successfully converted what was once a rapidly fatal disease into a chronic one that can be managed.)

“Were you to delve into health research, you would see that we are researching and utilizing successfully, nutritional strategies to cure, reverse, and prevent many illnesses, physical and mental.”
Be happy to: please provide citations to the articles published in first or second tier peer-reviewed journals where the results of this research is published so I so ‘delve’.

“ The scientific method begins with asking questions and postulating ideas.”
Actually, it begins with collecting observations.

“Thinking outside the box, and being open to things that have not yet been discovered is how we learn, grow, invent, and ultimately cure.”
What box is it you believe we need to think outside of—surely not the one where conclusions are drawn from evidence?

Good point on dihydrogen monoxide. They could always drown in their cup of complimentary lemon water.

TBH, I think the blueberry scones would do me in first. Well, maybe not now that they’re anti-science scones. I’ll have to find a replacement for my carbs and fat death pastry addiction.

“I’m in research and a health professional of the traditional sort, so save your hate speech.”

Gosh darnit, you’ve spiked my best comebacks!

“The scientific method begins with asking questions and postulating ideas.”

Except when it’s woo that you identify with, evidently.

“You are quick to judge and assume. I’m hopeful you are not in a position of research or any actual power in society.”

Oops! Not only is Orac involved in research, he wields vast powers in Society and has brought many a villainous woo-ster to his/her/its knees. Trifle not with the box of blinky lights and his hordes of ravenous minions.

*any bets that JLNIH is from Austin?

@ Nicole:

Wheat has become alties’ devil du jour.

Interestingly, in the olden days, health food stores were stocked to the rafters with breads, granola, cereals, sweet alternatives and pasta composed of WHOLE wheat and WHEAT germ amongst other more exotic grains.

Woo does evolve but it follows no path of discernible rationality: just new taboos and sources of mana emerge as if by magic. Survival of the most marketable I suppose.

“Nutritional pseudoscience may be the first to fall.” Oh no!

I just got my “Applied Nutritionist”[1] business cards printed up. I have not managed one consultation yet and the market is collapsing.

I have not even managed one free meal yet.

It may be time to switch to “Behavioural Economist”. I’d just use “Economist” but the PM has sullied that one.

1. Note the term “Applied Nutritionist” is not a legally protected name in my province 🙂

Agree that the wellness elite will just move on to new old woo (better the old new woo) but I do think that rationals are becoming more inclined to call this crap out. In the past, politeness along with an assumption that CAM is mostly harmless would prompt them to refrain. Now I do see more challenging happening thanks to a growing realisation that there are real-world consequences that are non-trivial.

Although the market for woo-tinged goods and services has grown considerably, the number of suppliers have increased to the point where it’s not really enough to have a Buddha statue and an Enya soundtrack anymore. You need to invest heavily in slick marketing, décor and the like to have any cut through because you don’t have much else. Over time, small players will have to increasingly have to scrabble for scraps while a few major players do well. And big players become big targets and start to behave a lot like ‘vested interests’. Won’t matter to true believers but the mildly woo prone may take notice.

If you’re going to walk all the way to Ypsi, keep going until you hit Zingerman’s. Their scones are better than Trader Joe’s anyway.

How many of the woo-ful can pronounce the γ-tocopherol they gleely slurp down in excessive quantities?

In terms of chemical names that are simple to pronounce, many roll easily off of the tongue, very pretty words – methanol, phenol, thallium, phosgene. Not a great idea to ingest.

Daniel Welch wrote “But increasing, there are more bloggers such as yourself willing to speak out — at great length, in, ahem, some cases — in favor of science. There are more people like SciBabe (motto: “come for the science, stay for the dirty jokes”) and the Food Hunk who are working to make science SEXY, for the lack of a better word.”

Hey, not to forget: the excellent work being done by Dr. Joe Schwarcz of McGill University! He has an App, even! (OSS, which stands for Office for Science and Society)

If you’re going to walk all the way to Ypsi, keep going until you hit Zingerman’s. Their scones are better than Trader Joe’s anyway.

Zingerman’s is like ten minutes from my apartment; I was walking to Ypsi from Ann Arbor. Trader Joe’s has a great cheese section, though, and reasonable prices on certain Belgian ales. I also like to buy flowers there sometimes.

I used to get Zingerman’s care packages from my mother.

(Adopt me).

One of the things that we get from the local TJ’s is edamame, which are just soy beans. Since at least 85% of the soy beans grown in the US are GMO-derived, I guess that means that Trader Joe’s has found the minority that are not. Or maybe it’s not GMO if you call it “edamame” instead of “soy bean” .

Some random comments:

“You can eat dinner — everything is raw, vegan, organic, soy free and gluten free — and then have your colon cleansed right through that door!”

My mother was a public health nurse. She would be appalled. So am I.

life was “like a beanstalk

“Life is a beanstalk, I want to weed it all night long”
Worst Tom Cochrane song ever.

Thinking outside the box… is how we learn, grow, invent, and ultimately cure.

It’s ironic how you guys who tell us to “think outside the box” always resort to the most tired cliche in the world: ” think outside the box”.
Anyway, my cats sometimes “think outside the box”. The results are the same.

Basically, isn’t any fruit or vegetable that has been selectively bred a GMO? So if Trader Joe’s is selling Red Delicious or Mackintosh apples, or Country Gentleman corn…

(the spousal unit has a vague idea that GMOs are “wrong” but that doesn’t keep him from scarfing down the Country Gentleman in July).

If you controlled for the actual level of science knowledge in a society at any given time, I’m guessing a historical study would show the presence of ‘pseudoscience’ as more-or-less constant: certainly not in decline as Ms. Bovy claims, but also not “the opposite” as Orac fears.

The issue is not as Daniel Welch puts it of ‘people not using their brains,’ but one of HOW they use their brains. It would be impossible to approach every aspect of everyday-life with due regard for scientific rigor. In terms of real people getting through their day, various forms of ‘not-reason’ are completely rational strategies at a macro level. The skeptic describes and decries all the failures of ‘magical thinking’, logical fallacies, ‘intuition’, ‘common sense’… This is, frankly, unscientific. A proper scientific take on ‘common habits of mind’ would examine them in totality, including the considerable ways in which they DO ‘work’ for people in all manner of mostly small things. And it would also ascertain how these habits actually function, including the ‘depth’ of any thought processes involved. ‘Pseudo’-science, like real science, requires a time and cognition investment that any individual can only devote to a few select priorities. It might be warped. but it’s not superficial. In that sense, mainstreamed practices originally rooted in some pseudoscience – unscientific behaviors, aren’t evidence of the spread of genuine pseudo-scientific thinking at all.

In the end, I argue “pseudoscience” is not a valid generic category for social concern, as it ranges from superficial trivialities to very dangerous and deeply held ideologies. Related, and even more troubling to me, is the whole language of whether or not something ‘works’. For one thing, it’s utterly ineffective as critique, as the way scientists deploy it is both tautological and blindered in ways J. Doe intuits, if not fully understands. More importantly, it fails to address the reasons J. Doe might ever care about any of these issues.

Everything ‘works’ in one way or another. The question is ‘WHAT WORK DOES IT DO?’

So, just for sake of argument, imagine I’m right and a certain more or less constant quantity of both pseudoscience thought and unscientific behavior are part of the human condition. If the numbers don’t change, the qualities and effects can still vary in the extreme, and the ‘what work does it do?’ question becomes essential for guiding concern and action about applying science, where we MUST put our priorities for push-back, and what we can write-off as tolerable annoyances.

The slippery slope is a textbook logical fallacy. One thing does NOT lead to another. Sure, Mike Adams will attach and interweave all forms of woo. But he’s a charlatan-kook who markets to the kook fringe. If the J. Does like a common-word ingredient list at Panera, or feel mildly comforted by the “no GMO” banner at Trader Joe’s, that hardly means they’re on their way to anti-vax zealotry, cancer quackery, slapupuncture, or even a trip through the colon cleanse door after a vegan meal at The Springs.

The question is ‘what’s the harm?’ – not in the rhetorical sense of ‘nothing to worry about here’ – but literally. If society has a constant woo-quotient, the directions that takes could be shifting toward lower harm if anti-vax is taking it in the shorts, or greater harm if naturopaths get PCP certification and prescription privileges. To the extent overly broad semiotic oppositions between science/pseudoscience distract us from evaluating changes in relative genuine harm, and focusing on the most important stuff, that doesn’t ‘work’ for me.

Pürblack
It’s for people suffering from a lack of Pürbs.

It’s for people suffering from a lack of Pürbs.

I really think Pürblack needs another umlaut.

Also, sadmar seems to be writing as though he thinks that skeptics have never thought about these issues before, as if we don’t make any distinctions based on potential harm. He comes across as attacking a straw man that we’re advocating a society completely run by science and reason, with all of us being good little Mr. Spocks.

As usual, the post-modernism-influenced guy has nothing worthwhile to say in his plodding long paragraphs. Shorter sadmer: “Me! ME!! ME!!!”.

‘Pseudoscience’ is in fact a very useful category, and attacks on it by humanities scholars – usually influenced by poststructuralism and constructivism – are a major causal influence on that particular nonsense that hurts our culture today.

As I see it, this certain kind of ‘scholar’ has given intellectual cover to this an other nonsense. The social constructivists are free to complain, as they always do, that guys like me don’t ‘understand’ them, that they never meant to denigrate science, etc. Honest people would instead admit that their school has had a massive negative influence on public respect for, and understanding of, science.

Indeed. sadmar also seems to think that skeptics don’t think about and debate the definition of science, particularly what we like to call the demarcation problem (that is, where science crosses over to become pseudoscience).

Since at least 85% of the soy beans grown in the US are GMO-derived, I guess that means that Trader Joe’s has found the minority that are not.

The frozen ones are imported from Southeast Asia.

JP,

Zingerman’s is like ten minutes from my apartment;

I’m envious, I love Ann Arbor, and Zingerman’s is the best deli every.

I’m envious, I love Ann Arbor, and Zingerman’s is the best deli every.

Indeed it is, although it’s too expensive for me to go there terribly often.

Ann Arbor itself has gone somewhat downhill in my opinion, even since I moved here five years ago; I’m sure some people see it as “movin’ on up,” but the rents keep rising, the town is getting increasingly “bougie,” and every time I turn around there’s another new expensive high-rise apartment building. I hear the tuition is about three times what it was in the 90s, and the U is trying ever harder to attract out-of-state students. The place is starting to feel like more of a country club than the Ivies.

If I had a car, I’d probably be living in Ypsi, to be honest.

Were you to delve into health research, you would see that we are researching and utilizing successfully, nutritional strategies to cure, reverse, and prevent many illnesses, physical and mental.

Some concrete claims from JLNHI — rather than this unspecific hand-wavy “many diseases” — would have been nice.

@ TBruce:

No, it actually *was* Procol Harum, ‘In Held twas’ etc: I was g–gling videos last week which was sparked by JP’s link.

Interesting how associative memory works. Too bad alties muck its results up so badly.

“‘Life is a beanstalk, I want to weed it all night long’
Worst Tom Cochrane song ever.”

Isn’tt Tom Cochrane the guy who keeps trashing influenza vaccine in his comprehensive reviews?

@Roman Korol

Hey, not to forget: the excellent work being done by Dr. Joe Schwarcz of McGill University! He has an App, even! (OSS, which stands for Office for Science and Society)

Joe Schwarcz was interviewed on The Current today.

“The frozen ones are imported from Southeast Asia”

A bit more googling has revealed that worldwide soybean production is approaching 80% GMO, but it seems that SE Asia is one of the corners of the planet that has largely not adopted GMO-based agriculture.

If Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, & Burma ever switch to GMO, then TJ’s is going to have to remove their edamame. It will have to disappear from their shelves just like that frozen strudel I used to enjoy. I now suspect that the strudel maker was using GMO apples provided by Monsanto.

I believe that edamame are generally only certain varieties of soybean, and as yet these varieties tend not to be GMO (I could be wrong, but I’m reasonably sure I’m not) – not all soy is equal, just as not all corn is created equal (for a long time there simply wasn’t GMO sweetcorn, even though most corn was GMO, because most corn isn’t actually sweetcorn)

I agree with the “unpronounceable for whom?” comment.

I can correctly pronounce each one of those in a second, and that last woman was almost perfect with “dimethylpolysiloxane”. So she and I can eat it without fear, right? While it’ll kill everyone who can’t say it. Actually, between equal quantities of DMPS and sugar, the DMPS is better for you.

Well, just think: for millenia, there was nothing but psuedoscience and superstition. A mere four centuries or so of science-based reasoning can’t wholly eradicate that, but a lot of progress has been made!

Keep at it for another four centuries, Orac, and you’ll see the results of your hard work.

In my experience, everyone loves him some Science as long as you define Science to be “a club for beating the fundies” or “proof that dope smoking cures cancer.” Turn that around into “evidence that your favorite boogerman is not in fact killing widows and orphans and small furry animals” then you find that you have created fresh converts to the Republican campaign to destroy Science for the Public Good.

You’re probably correct, Ewan, although most of the natural websites that I found seemed to recommend varieties based upon where they come from more than anything else. Edamame is just defined as “young soybean picked before hardening”. I can do without it, but the spousal unit likes to snack on it, and she refuses to spend more on something just to get “GMO-free” or “Organic” ion the label. I do wonder at what point others, particularly those in poorer countries, may come to same conclusion.

A recent look at the bottles in the Whole Foods supplements aisle shows that the supplement makers are quite guilty of using long, hard-to-pronounce polysyllabic names in their lists of ingredients. It seems very odd to me that relatively simple chemical names are deemed “yucky” by the alternative med types, but long pseudo-latin names are acceptable.

In my opinion, the supplement makers are more guilty than Kraft of obfuscation in their labeling methods.

I read over a list of things that Panera has put on it’s No-No list (how childish is *that* name) and the ingredient that really stuck out to me was *lard*. What’s artificial about lard? What’s hard to pronounce? Laaaaaarrrddd. It’s not hard.

If I were inclined to real-life trolling (which I’m not) it would be a fun bit of performance art to walk into a Panera, horrendously mis-pronounce something on the menu, and then demand it be removed, because I can’t pronounce it. Something like ciabatta.

Now that I think about it, the whole “don’t eat it if you can’t pronounce it” is pretty xenophobic. Or American-English-centric.

‘Pseudoscience’ is in fact a very useful category

Assertion w/o evidence. √

And attacks on it by humanities scholars

Grammar fail. √

usually influenced by poststructuralism and constructivism

Citation needed. √

are a major causal influence on that particular nonsense that hurts our culture today.

Hilarious. √

As I see it, this certain kind of ‘scholar’ has given intellectual cover to this an other nonsense.

Ad hominem airquotes. √

The social constructivists are free to complain, as they always do, that guys like me don’t ‘understand’ them.

You don’t understand them. You can’t cite and explicate a single major point from this corpus accurately. You fantasize some monolithic perspective among people who disagree one another constantly. Arrogance of ignorance. √

that they never meant to denigrate science

Useless definition of “science”, failing to distinguish scientific validity from ‘science’ as a social-economic institution. √

Honest people would instead admit that their school has had a massive negative influence on public respect for, and understanding of, science.

Umm, smart people would admit that the public neither knows or gives a mouse’s butt about humanities scholarship. And honest people would realize, as such, that they’ve created a boogeyman to blame for their own failures.

Failure to address any substantive points in my post. √

the ingredient that really stuck out to me was *lard*

They’re going to have a devil of a time eliminating cysteine from the menu. And I take it that they’re also using only naturally occurring baking soda and cream of tartar.

Grammar fail. √

This should be good. Oh, and…

Doesn’t know what a surd is. ✓

Does like a common-word ingredient list at Panera, or feel mildly comforted by the “no GMO” banner at Trader Joe’s, that hardly means they’re on their way to anti-vax zealotry, cancer quackery, slapupuncture, or even a trip through the colon cleanse door after a vegan meal at The Springs.

It’s not that I find the “no GMO” banner at TJ’s particularly harmful; it’s that I find it annoying. It’s disingenuous pandering on the likes of TJ’s, Panera and Chipotle, and it feeds into a general miasma of fear about GMO’s that one could argue actually does do material harm. Look at the developing countries like Zimbabwe that have refused food aid shipments because they were GM; that doesn’t come from nowhere, it comes from the anti-GMO fear-mongering of orgs like Greenpeace.

Not to mention that I find the whole anti-GMO thing to be symptomatic, if you will, of a general anti-science attitude among the general public, “liberal” types like my own tribe in particular. Anti-science just annoys me more when it comes from my own side, especially given how much libs like to beat Republicans over the head about their anti-evolution and global warming denialist stances (and rightly so.) TBH, I’d like to see more people on both sides of the aisle basing their opinions/worldviews/whatever on reality and not on ideology and ideology-driven emotion.

If you controlled for [undefined] the actual level [undefined] of science knowledge in a society at any given time, I’m guessing a historical study would show the presence of ‘pseudoscience’ as more-or-less [sic] constant: certainly not in decline as Ms. Bovy claims, but also not “the opposite” as Orac fears.

Well played.

‘Pseudoscience’ is in fact a very useful category

Assertion w/o evidence. √

The same can be said of your assertion that “pseudoscience” is “not a valid generic category for social concern.”

I read over a list of things that Panera has put on it’s No-No list (how childish is *that* name) and the ingredient that really stuck out to me was *lard*. What’s artificial about lard? What’s hard to pronounce? Laaaaaarrrddd. It’s not hard.

It’s in the “already not in our food” color, so it wasn’t there anyway; I’m guessing they put it on the list just because it sounds yucky and has certain connotations. (Lard-a**, etc.) I mean, it’s not like Panera is a vegetarian joint or anything, so I can’t think of any other reason.

Now that I think about it, the whole “don’t eat it if you can’t pronounce it” is pretty xenophobic. Or American-English-centric.

Maybe they should start calling it “manteca” and using it in their food. Judging by the quality of the food at my cousin’s taqueria, it’d improve the cuisine at Panera quite a bit.

Orac seems to be strawmaning via reductio ad dichotominium. 🙂

he thinks that skeptics have never thought about these issues before

I think individual skeptics actually, vary a lot in how much or how well they have thought about these issues, but overall the community has not addressed them suffiicently

as if we don’t make any distinctions based on potential harm

Of course skeptics make distinctions based on potential harm all the time. But sometimes they don’t. And sometimes they get it wrong.

He comes across as attacking a straw man

That wasn’t an attack.

we’re advocating a society completely run by science and reason

I’m not saying that. I’m talking about recognizing the limited extent to which science and/or reason can ever be expected to guide human thought and behavior, thus differentiating between the importance of Un-science and Un-reason based on harm, and thus creating strategies to maximizing the pro-social effect of asserting science and/or reason by picking and choosing. I’m suggesting skeptics may actually be doing a good enough job of that, that while the total amount of woo floating about now may be the same as it was 15 years ago, things might indeed be better now, all things considered. Not that I necessarily think they ARE better. I just think it’s a fairly complicated question, open to investigation and debate.

with all of us being good little Mr. Spocks.

Hey, I iove Spock! 🙂

^ Regarding #67, it’s true that in the olden days I would have told the typesetter “set rad+vinc”; then again, we also told them “solidus” when they knew what was meant was “virgule.”

Bringhurst, oddly, doesn’t have an entry for the term, but OUP’s The Printing of Mathematics (1954) concurs with “surd.”

I mean, it’s not like Panera is a vegetarian joint or anything, so I can’t think of any other reason.

It is quite difficult to get nonhydrogenated lard, at least at the consumer level.

Serious proposal:

This “if you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t eat it” meme is a major danger of going viral, getting Food Babe and her ilk much more publicity & actual power.

We need a counter-meme campaign that a) brings people back to reality and b) destroys the value of Food Babe’s meme via mockery and c) goes viral faster & better than her dreck.

Possibilities:

“If you can’t pronounce it, look it up.”

“If they can’t pronounce it, they’re stupid!” (Certain venues only, this one might be controversial.)

List of various international dishes that many people eat but many can’t pronounce: particularly French but also some Asian and some Mexican, with the header “Can you pronounce these correctly?”

List of common chemicals in foods, with their common names after their chemical names, ending up with “Dihydrogen monoxide: Water,” and the tag line “Chemicals: they’re everywhere!”

Stick-figure cute cartoon characters representing molecules, with the text-ballons over their heads saying “We are chemicals. We are everywhere!” This plays on the old gay rights slogan “we are everywhere,” and will get traction in the progressive community if it’s done right. This also suggests “chemicals: they’re coming out of the closet” as part of the theme.

Brainstorm & suggestions welcome.

(In case someone has already suggested this: I just wrapped up work & haven’t had a chance to read all the comments yet, sorry about that…)

it’s true that in the olden days I would have told the typesetter “set rad+vinc”; then again, we also told them “solidus” when they knew what was meant was “virgule.”

I have tried correcting people who talk about “slash-fic” when clearly they mean “virgule-fic”, but they just don’t listen.

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