Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Doggerel #68: But You Don't Know How [Woo] Works!

Welcome back to "Doggerel," where I ramble on about words and phrases that are misused, abused, or just plain meaningless.

I'll cut to the point on this one: Most woos seem completely oblivious to the fact that we're interested in whether or not something works. That's supposed to be easy to demonstrate. I don't know how this computer works (beyond knowing that it involves a lot of really tiny on/off switches), and yet its operation can be clearly demonstrated. Woo, however, tends to fail under proper viewing conditions.

One of the annoying fronts on this issue is medical woo. So many alties ramble about the body's ability to heal itself, but they're quick to dismiss that as a possible alternative explanation for improvement. That's why we have double-blind control studies: There's a big pile of explanations for possible improvement that don't include the treatment in question, and we can't exactly prevent them from happening. So what do we do? We compare the treatment (experimental group) to pretending to give the treatment (placebo group). If the treatment has no noticeable effect, those two groups will have similar outcomes. I fail to see how our lack of knowledge affects the suitability of that test.

It's easy to demonstrate a lot of things working, even if we don't know how. What makes the Quadro tracker, the techno-dowsing rod, any different than real technological sensors? They work even if you don't know how they work. And heck, going on dowsing a little bit more, even being the inventor of your techno-dowsing rod is no guarantee it'll pass the test.

So, to summarize, "Does it work?" is a much more fundamental question than "How does it work?"


Doggerel Index


Ryan Michael said...

"Does it work" is where the woos first go wrong. Their answer to "does it work" is either "try it yourself" or "it works for me", and they really think they've won the argument with that. Then they start with the ad hoc reasons for why [woo] works. It's all very annoying.

As an aside, the day I became a critical thinker, as I think anyone here can agree, was the day I admitted to myself that

1. I could be wrong


2. I could be fooling myself.

TabAtkins said...

I can agree 100%, Ryan. Those are the most important things a skeptic can ever hold in their mind.

As well, I get so pissed at people who don't understand what BD is talking about. We simply don't care how it works. At least, not right now. First, we want to establish if it works, and that's really easy. No theories necessary, just a well-designed test, preferably a DBCT.

I think this may have been inspired by the Acupuncture thread over at Skeptico's. I designed a DBCT for it that I thought was extremely fair, and the woo I was talking to *still* tried to go on about how we can't test how it works.

Randy Kirk said...

I started taking Juice Plus three years ago. (I'm not selling it) JP is a food supplement. Since starting I have not had my annual or semi-annual cold. I have not had my monthly or more often canker sores (my whole life prior.) To boot, I have gone from having gums in need of scraping to normal twice annual cleanings and no pockets (according to the websites I've read, the gum tissue doesn't heal, you have to cut off the bad parts.)

Other folks haven't had these results, but have had other benefits. Some haven't. Since I only know it works for me, should I stop taking it until the DB studies are done?

Bronze Dog said...

The fact that they get different benefits suggests to me that they're not the result of the juice, or at least not anything special about Juice Plus, but I'm not a nutrition expert.

If I had to guess having more juice of any kind would benefit most anyone.

Think I may have a subtle doggerel to do here: "Works for me". The problem is that a lot of woo stuff would appear to work even if it doesn't do anything. Other factors may be the real cause of improvement.

Rhoadan said...

Semi-thread derail here. BD, I hope that this whole Menu Foods problem hasn't affected Molly any. It doesn't affect my cats because 1) we don't feed them any of the affected brands, and 2) even if we did, we don't feed them cuts 'n gravy style.

However, and here's why it's only a semi-derail, the company's handling of the issue is sort of related to this doggerel. There's an e-petition to Menu Foods protesting the fact that they tested the suspect food on cats and dogs before issuing the recall, and calling on them not do that in the future. The petition authors and some of the signers are clearly clueless about the testing. They seem to think that Menu Foods is testing on animals to find out what is causing the problem, whereas it seems obvious to me that the company was testing on animals to verify the existence of the problem before submitting anything to a lab. It's a variation on the this Doggerel. I don't like it, but I understand it. What I find unconscionable is that Menu Foods apparently waited two weeks after getting the results in to issue the recall according to this article in SciAm Online.

Bronze Dog said...

Molly's still doing fine, and was attempting to catch a pair of squirrels today.

Looks like the pet food scandal's a bit deeper than I initially suspected. Think I'll make a note to take a closer look at our brands.