Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why You Woos Got to Be Such a Downer, Grrrrrl?

Caution: This post is trying to recapture the foam from one of my classic rants, though the bulk of it spent some time cooling in a .txt file before posting.

Those of you who've followed earlier rants in comments, as well as the original know that I've gotten quite bitter towards a lot of woos over my blogging career. Given the responses from an earlier survey, it seems it's very understandable for my regulars.

Of all the woos out there, I think alties deserve particular ire. These are people who often actively harm people. They have very low standards for what they'll use, and yet the very high standards we demand of the FDA don't meet with their approval, and when we tell them to raise their standards even a little bit, they reply with a rant about why they, in their hubris, should be allowed to ignore epistemology, the scientific method, and so forth. And these people essentially demand the right to experiment on humans willy-nilly, without basic protocols. Even if the woo is one of the types that has little or no effect, that kind of attitude is scary. What it amounts to is they're asking for us to return to the pre-FDA days when anyone could sell alcohol, poison, or useless/harmful gadgetry as panaceas. Real medicine isn't perfect, but it's much more preferable to those times. What really tears it is that these people openly exploit desperation of the terminally ill or chronically suffering by suggesting their 'treatments' under said sloppy experimental conditions because they can ask one of the most dangerous phrases in the English language: "what's the harm?" The best way to describe it: "Since we don't know what will work, throw money at me so that I can experiment in a manner that even if this unproven or even debunked and harmful idea works, it'll still be unproven because we made sure we were sloppy." It's as if they think they have the right to treat people's lives as playthings.

Next on the list are the cdesign proponentists who pose a more insidious threat. They want us to throw science standards out of education to allow their particular brand of woo in. This is attacking the one place where we can help the most: Children. Indoctrination is a very difficult thing to overcome. If we can teach children to rely on evidence, and not arbitrary authority, religion will not have so much gullibility to latch onto. IDiots invent false controversy, and thus try to elevate their pre-scientific concepts as equals to everything the evidence has taught us. The last time I checked, "Intelligent Design" has failed to even specify what sorts of evidence would prove or disprove their "hypothesis". They often have to cover that up by making false appeals to emotion, claiming that Darwin endorsed eugenics (which he didn't) or that eugenics fan Hitler endorsed evolution (which he didn't). Not that it particularly matters. Hitler also believed in gravity. In addition to those overt lies, they have to include straw men like evolution being "random". I'm getting to the point that if a Creationist makes any of the usual claims about randomness and chance, I'll just assume they made a conscious decision to lie. Many similar lies are included about the alleged "weaknesses" of evolution which have little to do with any actual weaknesses (which we should leave to the scientists who actually study the stuff to iron out and detail for us, rather than making 150-year-old presumptions that were addressed long, long ago).

Next up are the various "psychics": People who'd be ripe for the JREF Paranormal Challenge right off the bat. A very large chunk of them deal directly with those grieving over death. The psychic "detectives", who just generally aren't very helpful, and the mediums, who spout uninformative plattitudes once they've fished out a few details. The Queen of Particularly Evil Psychics, Sylvia Browne, plays a bit of both. So far, she doesn't exactly have a good record on the detective front. James Randi challenged her long ago to work the JREF Challenge, and she's still a no-show. The corresponding King of Particular Evil Psychics happens to hold the title of The Biggest Douche in the Universe, and for good reason: All he does are typical cold reading tricks and the like. When you play games like that with people's memories, you can cause great harm to those memories. On the telekinesis side, you've got people like Uri Geller doing cheap magician tricks and winning gullible followers. Of course, if anyone disagrees with my assessment, they should probably get one of them to pass the challenge. It's out in the open.

Next: Conspiracy theorists. It's not at all uncommon for any kind of woo to quickly fall into this. These people exist to make excuses for failure, whether it's personal failure, the failure of their favorite woo, or just the general nastiness that exists in the world. These people exist to defy Occam's Razor. If there's a simple physical explanation for something, you can count on them to create 20 rival Illuminati sects covering everything up so that it just looks like the laws of physics work. Oddly, these magical sects can still operate in secrecy in highly advanced nations during the information age.

Final category for the time being: The 'magitek' crowd, coming up with devices that allegedly break the laws of physics. Cold fusion's had a lot of history, and perpetual motion even moreso. Technology's given us a lot of nifty stuff, but the key difference between real technology and the woo stuff is that real technology works. The woo stuff doesn't. It'd be really nifty if the laws of thermodynamics can be overturned on more than the microscopic level (and reliably), but if you can't get 'em running, I won't be investing. Everyone else who invested in those promises lost their money. Give me a damn good reason why your gizmo stands any better of a chance.

Now, on to general ranting: What woos all have in common is that they won't subject themselves to reasonable tests. They're perfectly fine with everyone else in the world giving a care about actually testing whether or not they're helping, but they refuse to do the same. Scientists actually care whether or not they're doing the right thing, and they're open to inquiry relevant to that question. Unlike a woo, a scientist is capable of admitting he might be wrong, or that he made a mistake. Naturally, there's some ego to resist the necessary humility, but that's natural. Woos, despite bringing that up for scientists never display that. It's always "I know what I saw!" or something equivalent that presumes infallibility of personal experience. Or of personal anything.

Because of that, whenever I see a hit-and-run woo troll spouting stock lines about arrogance, I keep mentally translating it as "You're an arrogant skeptic to think an infallible being like myself could be wrong!"

As a skeptic, I could be wrong, and there could be a fairy under every garden (evidence, please. Really. Please). It'd be really cool, but unlike in television, cool does not equal plausible.

1 comment:

Thursday said...

I'm going to take a "magitek" (nice word, btw) seller to task, since the manufacturer doesn't seem to be available.

Biggest question: Do you believe this thing works? If so, would you mind proving it?

If not, of course, they's screwed!