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Posts Tagged ‘pseudoscience’

Going Viral

September 28th, 2009 No comments

I’ve been seeing a chiropractor for the past couple of years due to chronic back problems, and despite my initial skepticism, I generally have felt pretty good about it. While I’m by no means free of discomfort, I haven’t had the twisted spine or crippling spasms that once plagued me.

Last Friday I went in for my monthly visit and, while sitting in the waiting area, noticed a flyer sitting out amongst the magazines. “The Truth About the Flu Shot” detailed surprising “facts”: that flu vaccinations had no significant effect on healthy babies, children with asthma, adults, the elderly or, one presumes, anyone at all. Among its suggestions of how to combat government-mandated vaccinations are to connect with other activist organizations (including ones that “support 2nd Amendment issues”) and to “have at least 3 weeks of food and water on hand.”

Troubled by such patently bogus information being left out in a healthcare professional’s office, I folded it into my pocket. Then I asked the “doctor” about it. To my dismay, I learned that he fully endorsed these false beliefs.

Okay, truth to tell, I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn this. I was initially hesitant to see a chiropractor for fear of quackery. (For what it’s worth, I’ve talked to my doctor and nurse practitioner about my concerns, and they both felt that spinal manipulation itself was okay.)

I told him that this was irresponsible, that he was spreading dangerous misinformation. He said that we’d have to “agree to disagree.”

Now, I know all about agreeing to disagree. This is what I tell angry viewers after two failed attempts to explain my workplace’s programming policies. If they continue to argue the same point, I agree to disagree and end the dialogue. But we had barely even begun to talk about my concerns.

He said we could debate it all day, to which I replied, “No, I can’t, because I don’t come armed with facts and figures to make my argument.” That’s not to say that I haven’t read up on the subject: for example, Time ran a lengthy article on the anti-vaccination movement last year. It’s just that, as is the case when I go up to visit my dad, I can’t prepare in advance for a debate that I don’t know I’m going to have.

I told him my chief objection to those who don’t vaccinate their children: I have a wife who, thanks to a congenital heart defect, has a weakened immune system. As the Time article points out, the more unvaccinated people there are in a population, the greater the risk for those who are more susceptible to disease. (More about that and other aspects of the anti-vaccination movement here.)

His response was “If the vaccine works, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” (Not true; see above.) I said, “If the vaccine works, you’re trying to discourage people from getting it.”

I said that I was disappointed that a medical professional would disseminate such misinformation, to which he replied, “I’m not a medical professional.” That’s funny, because on his very own web site (which I will not link to, as it’s not my intention to impugn his reputation), he states:

Actually chiropractic physicians receive four academic years of schooling, just like medical physicians. The chiropractic curriculum includes the same basic sciences that medical doctors take. Medical school curricula are remarkably similar, especially in the first three years. Courses like biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, neurology, endocrinology, histology, embryology, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, myology, hematology, angiology, osteology are part of the chiropractic curriculum.

Huh.

In any case, he’s someone to whom people go when they have health-related issues. I expect that would engender a certain amount of trust on the part of his clients when it comes to such subjects.

We went back and forth for a bit. I argued that if there’s consensus among the medical community (which there is when it comes to vaccines) that it’s probably right. He countered that there’s a lot of money riding on getting people vaccinated. (As opposed to any other type of medical treatment, which, as we all know, is provided free of charge.) I told him that the “vaccines cause autism” claim had been thoroughly debunked. He shot back, in true Argument Clinic fashion, “No, it hasn’t.”

He offered that if I was offended, he would understand if I just left without completing the session, but I decided to stay. When my batty grandma was alive she used to declare, “I’ll never go there again!” every time she disagreed with someone at a place of business. I don’t want to be that grandma.

While I made another appointment for next month, I’m still debating whether to go back. This is an issue that ignites passion on my part, and it bugs me to support a willing disseminator of anti-scientific hogwash. Yet I genuinely like the guy, and I do actually think he’s done me some good.

If I do return, I’ll come prepared.

I Can Scarcely Believe It, Girlfriend

June 1st, 2009 No comments
Categories: TV Tags: , ,

Still Here

September 12th, 2007 No comments

I’ve been crazy busy for the past couple of weeks, hence this blog-lite period. More later, but until then, a few quick updates:

At last, my dad is supposed to be going home today. He’d been in the rehab wing of a nursing home for the past several weeks building up his strength. I talked to him last night, and he was sounding good. I’m going to go up and stay with him this weekend.

Recently I’ve been doing the chiropractic thing. I had my initial intake a few weeks back at a clinic that told me I needed to come in for fifty visits over a six-month period at an after-insurance cost of more than two thousand bucks. And then they wheeled in the financial counselor to discuss payment options. After they woke me up from the fainting spell, I got the hell out of there and got me a second opinion.

The new guy–who I’ve been seeing since last week–is instilling me with much more confidence. He hasn’t used any pseudo-science terminology or suggested any miracle cures. He told me that he’d have me come in a few times over a two-week period and see how it goes, which is a far, far cry from Mr. Big Shot Wellness Doc and his extended payment plan. He’s been smacking me with some little pneumatic hammer device that’s supposed to apply so many pounds of pressure in a quick burst in a specific spot. It feels a little silly, but it does seem to be doing some good: I’m not listing to the left side like I have been for the past year or so.

On the work front, it looks like I may be on the radio again sometime next week. It’s been nearly three years since my last guest host stint on WILL-AM. We’re trying to line up an interview with Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture. I don’t agree with all of Keen’s conclusions, but it’s a provocative book which suggests that the movements toward citizen journalism and do-it-yourself media such as Wikipedia and YouTube are dismantling professional institutions and putting experienced news gatherers out of work, replacing them with misinformed blogs and amateurish (in every sense of the word) talent shows.

To be sure, there are plenty of warning signs that traditional media are withering, and for reasons both personal and professional I agree that this is not a good thing. Some of the backlash against the mainstream media may be deserved–they certainly allowed themselves to be cowed by their political opponents in recent years–but bloggers are in no position to replace them. Blogs still largely depend upon the wire services and major dailies for their info, and lack the resources to do their own news gathering or to place correspondents in foreign trouble spots. Mostly, what they offer is opinion: lots and lots of non-fact-checked, semi-rational, ethically-unfettered opinion.

I’ll post a date and time when we’ve confirmed our guest.

(And yes, I’m still going to get back to the religious thing at some point.)

Me Of Little Faith: Introduction

August 30th, 2007 No comments

Last week I bought Skeptic magazine for the first time. The issue was dedicated to the subject of evolution and its ideological opponent, so-called “intelligent design.” The topic interests me for reasons both professional and personal. My job requires me to occasionally field calls from pissed-off creationists objecting to Nova or other science documentaries. And my dad refuses to believe in evolution because he sees no point in existence if God isn’t involved.

As for myself, I’m both repelled and fascinated by such pseudoscience. On one hand, I feel that it has caused great damage to our culture. Used by cynical manipulators for political ends, it has sown confusion about the nature and process of science, leading to irrational, foolish actions. And yet, I can’t deny that there’s a part of me that yearns for the supernatural and the paranormal. I don’t truly believe in the Loch Ness Monster, but wouldn’t it be cool?

Reading the articles in Skeptic got me thinking a lot about my own beliefs about the origins and purpose of life, and most of all, my lack of faith in a traditional God.

Yes, this is going to be one of those long, navel-gazing blog essays. Bear with me. Or don’t: come back in a week or so and I’ll be writing about kittens or comic books instead.

Next: How Long Is Forever?