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Dave W.
Info Junkie

USA
25771 Posts

Posted - 12/05/2009 :  21:52:53  Show Profile  Visit Dave W.'s Homepage Send Dave W. a Private Message  Reply with Quote
This thread is for posting comments about the SFN article “Strategy Ideas for Skeptics” Please try to keep posts on topic. Only registered users may post comments.


Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 12/06/2009 :  04:03:24   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
First of all, I'm not sure why skeptics would limit themselves to religion and "alternative" medicine. I think that's been addressed elsewhere on the site, but I think it's worth repeating. I think it's important for all of us to look at our false beliefs and what ties us to our false beliefs. I think it's important to be as polite as possible, but the restrictions on not discussing politics and religion in our society have kept us from learning about how we gleefully hold onto our dumb ideas. We all have dumb ideas, and I think exposing them to fresh air helps us lose them if we're making an honest attempt.

I think Bob touched on this a little, but a huge problem is our media, which includes publishing, TV shows, and all types of education.

Some professions should be held to a higher standard. Police, soldiers, public officials, etc., seem to sometimes (not all the time, of course) be held to a lower standard because they have tough jobs, but corruption and incompetence by these people who are supposed to be highly trained, can cause much greater damage than any individual could possibly cause.

I think the same is true of the media. The media become little more than cheerleaders for wars and all kinds of destructive ideas and behavior, including religion and woo. It's a free country, we say, so Oprah and Montel should be able to put any kind of nonsense on their shows, for instance. We think publishers should be able to publish whatever they can sell. There are guidelines and even laws restricting all of this, but they're not doing the trick. All I need to get around the law is say that my ideas are not approved by the FDA, who, as we know, are simply hirelings of big Pharma.

I'd like to see publishers and TV shows held to a higher standard somehow. I'd like to see the university that gave Chopra his M.D., demand it back, with documented evidence on why he should. I'd like to see the FCC demand that stations that air promotions of Sylvia Browne take some actions to make her back up her claims or keep her off the air. I don't want to stifle discussion or make it illegal to bring up wild ideas, either, but I think we need a higher standard. There are many ideas that don't get enough air time, so I think the higher standard should include widening the discussion, not narrowing the discussion.

But I think we do ourselves a disservice by saying that Skepticism with a capital 'S' should be limited to certain ideas. There is nothing wrong with Stephen Novella largely focusing on subjects that he is an expert in, either, I don't mean that he should necessarily investigate false claims about mattresses. But, those that are skeptical about mattresses should be included in discussions about Skepticism.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
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Bob Lloyd
Skeptic Friend

Spain
59 Posts

Posted - 12/07/2009 :  06:16:28   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Bob Lloyd's Homepage Send Bob Lloyd a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Gordo, I think you're quite right that the media is very influential in the spread of irrational beliefs and prejudices. They respond to economic interests and follow the social pack.

But I don't think the answer is necessarily greater regulation and holding the media to account. The problem I see with the regulation approach is that it is so easily used as a means of political control. The religious right has always tried to get legislation against blasphemy in order to defend an idea, as if it had the rights of a person. Instead of a person who suffers injury due to an offence, they claim that religious ideas themselves deserve the same respect. And for that reason, they urge regulation of expression.

In the UK, that move was opposed by comedians, journalists, song-writers, dramatists, authors, TV producers, and pretty much everyone who wanted to express any critical opinion. The use of satire or irony would land them in court if such legislation was passed.

So TV shows that broadcast misleading stuff do so even with the regulation. Although they're regulated by advertising standards bodies and through watchdogs, they must also be permitted to broadcast critical and controversial stuff, and that inevitably lets them broadcast nonsense too. We basically have to make enough noise over a sufficient time that the quacklash gets noticed and reported. Once it's controversial, it'll get the coverage. It's happened to some extent with religion, through Dawkins et al. Other branches of Woo are much less in focus.

But it seems even the idea of balanced coverage is a problem. For example, those journalists who provide such balance often think that the answer to any question always lies somewhere in the middle. So when a scientist comes on TV to present the evidence about, for example, vaccines against polio, you get some clown denying everything and who is there only to provide balance. The impression inevitably given is that the evidence is disputed and the question unresolved, the answer being somewhere in the middle. It's like having someone say 2+2=4 and someone else saying 2+2=5 and the programme suggesting that the result is somewhere in between, say 2.5! They don't seem to realise that although there might be two sides to every story (and there are usually many more), it's likely that only one of them is right.

But the media generally follows controversy with coverage and up till now, we haven't been able to raise enough controversy. Challenging a prominent individual and questioning their statements can have a big effect if they are already in the media. In the UK, Patrick Holford, that self-styled nutrition expert, ended up as a visiting professor at Teeside University promoting his own brand of Woo. But because he was outed by amongst others Ben Goldacre (of Bad Science fame), he eventually resigned the post. So it is possible to have an effect.

In the case of people like Chopra, they have earned their qualifications, in his case in medicine and endocrinology. It's important to take their statements and challenge them, rather than any ad hominem attack on the person. It's fair game though to contrast the evidence-based nature of the qualification with the wacky spiritual nonsense he now pushes.
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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 12/07/2009 :  06:58:55   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
My point is that people use their PhD's and M.D.'s to gain credibility in areas not only outside their area of expertise, which may be reasonable, but contrary to their areas of expertise.


I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 12/07/2009 :  07:31:27   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Gorgo

My point is that people use their PhD's and M.D.'s to gain credibility in areas not only outside their area of expertise, which may be reasonable, but contrary to their areas of expertise.


Yes, and sometimes I think that they are legion. Unfortunately, much of the public has come to assume that a set of esoteric letters following a name represents wisdom in all things, even though the owner ignores his field of research except for propaganda purposes. That accounts for the success of the likes of Sarfati and Wells.

Bob, I've been following your posts with great interest. They are quite enlightening. Thanks!




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

Edited by - filthy on 12/07/2009 07:32:45
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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 12/07/2009 :  07:54:06   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message  Reply with Quote
[But I don't think the answer is necessarily greater regulation and holding the media to account. The problem I see with the regulation approach is that it is so easily used as a means of political control.


The present system is a means of political control. Corporations own the media, they give money to the universities and schools. That is the problem. If they can make a lot of money promoting Sylvia Browne, they will. A case like that is an egregious violation of trust. These are our airwaves, people should not be able to use them to sell us crap.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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Bob Lloyd
Skeptic Friend

Spain
59 Posts

Posted - 12/08/2009 :  06:30:32   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Bob Lloyd's Homepage Send Bob Lloyd a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Gorgo

[But I don't think the answer is necessarily greater regulation and holding the media to account. The problem I see with the regulation approach is that it is so easily used as a means of political control.


The present system is a means of political control. Corporations own the media, they give money to the universities and schools. That is the problem. If they can make a lot of money promoting Sylvia Browne, they will. A case like that is an egregious violation of trust. These are our airwaves, people should not be able to use them to sell us crap.


I appreciate the frustration and anger. It's a real problem that regulation can backfire. Suppose for example that TV has to be able to justify the claims it makes. The panel set up to decide if their claims are justified will be populated with those representing the economic interests. The same happened in the UK over food standards. The boards were populated with people from the main supermarket chains!

I agree that the media is biased. Of course it is. But the bias is based on their ownership of the business and any regulation will be shaped by the business interests in their interests. I think we have to argue for claims to be challenged, for a fair consideration of the evidence, and for exposing bias, but to do that we need the freedom to raise the questions in the first place.

We have to maintain the freedom to make the criticisms. Blasphemy laws are one effective tactic to surreptitiously broaden the respect of a person to include their ideas as well, and that's very dangerous. It means questioning opinions suddenly becomes insulting individuals. The fear in the UK was the broad nature of the control which would threaten satire, comedy, and any critical reporting of ideas and events.

Surely it's a better strategy to exploit the fact that the media chases controversy, and to create that controversy by challenging Woo claims effectively? Despite the fact that all business interests are after making money, the media makes money whether or not Woo businesses are exposed, and that gives us an opportunity.
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Gorgo
SFN Die Hard

USA
5309 Posts

Posted - 12/08/2009 :  06:51:03   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Gorgo a Private Message  Reply with Quote

Surely it's a better strategy to exploit the fact that the media chases controversy, and to create that controversy by challenging Woo claims effectively? Despite the fact that all business interests are after making money, the media makes money whether or not Woo businesses are exposed, and that gives us an opportunity.


I am, of course, in agreement that we do not want to unnecessarily limit freedom of speech. We do have limits already, but media has, or should have, especially in the case of broadcast radio and TV, a duty to serve the public, and in many ways, they do not.

In response to controversy, media doesn't chase certain kinds of controversy. They only chase the easy kind that doesn't leave them open to lawsuits and lots of phone calls to the TV station from powerful interests. That limits speech.

I don't pretend to have the answer here, just pointing out a problem.

I know the rent is in arrears
The dog has not been fed in years
It's even worse than it appears
But it's alright-
Jerry Garcia
Robert Hunter



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Bob Lloyd
Skeptic Friend

Spain
59 Posts

Posted - 12/08/2009 :  07:20:02   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Bob Lloyd's Homepage Send Bob Lloyd a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Gorgo


Surely it's a better strategy to exploit the fact that the media chases controversy, and to create that controversy by challenging Woo claims effectively? Despite the fact that all business interests are after making money, the media makes money whether or not Woo businesses are exposed, and that gives us an opportunity.


I am, of course, in agreement that we do not want to unnecessarily limit freedom of speech. We do have limits already, but media has, or should have, especially in the case of broadcast radio and TV, a duty to serve the public, and in many ways, they do not.

In response to controversy, media doesn't chase certain kinds of controversy. They only chase the easy kind that doesn't leave them open to lawsuits and lots of phone calls to the TV station from powerful interests. That limits speech.

I don't pretend to have the answer here, just pointing out a problem.


A good example of the avoidance of certain types of controversy is seen in the recent case of the UK BBC Radio 4 program Today in which they have a three-minute slot called Thought for the Day. This is where some religious person, from all different faiths, opines about God, Allah, Yahweh, etc, and preaches homilies to the good folks in the UK while they are having their breakfast. There has been a flood of complaints for years that they never invite secular comment, or an atheist to offer their ideas. After an internal enquiry, the board decided that such blatant bias wasn't after all in breach of its contract because there were other opportunities in the media for such atheist and secular comment!

You're absolutely right that they turn away from certain types of controversy. Our problem is how to make it unavoidable. One successful way was to do a mass reporting of chiropractors to their governing body, which was the work of just a few inspired bloggers in the UK. I think we need more creative ideas along those lines.
Edited by - Bob Lloyd on 12/08/2009 07:24:24
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 12/08/2009 :  10:11:34   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Thank you for the article, Bob Lloyd.

I seem to disagree with the thrust of your recommendations for changing the behavior of the practitioners of "alternative medicine."

I do feel that, like the anti-vaxers, those who sell phony nostrums kill people by distracting them from getting real medical care. I think they should be "encouraged" to go into other fields by the establishment of strong laws and regulations outlawing their practices. Then we should "encourage" the quacks to stay away from their victims by trying the bastards and throwing them in prison.

IMHO, only when killer quacks are faced with the real prospect of jail time will they even think seriously of shutting down their deadly businesses.

Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
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Bob Lloyd
Skeptic Friend

Spain
59 Posts

Posted - 12/09/2009 :  08:20:09   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Bob Lloyd's Homepage Send Bob Lloyd a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by HalfMooner

Thank you for the article, Bob Lloyd.

I seem to disagree with the thrust of your recommendations for changing the behavior of the practitioners of "alternative medicine."

I do feel that, like the anti-vaxers, those who sell phony nostrums kill people by distracting them from getting real medical care. I think they should be "encouraged" to go into other fields by the establishment of strong laws and regulations outlawing their practices. Then we should "encourage" the quacks to stay away from their victims by trying the bastards and throwing them in prison.

IMHO, only when killer quacks are faced with the real prospect of jail time will they even think seriously of shutting down their deadly businesses.


I agree with the sentiment but the problem is with the action. For example, if someone claimed to treat cancer and the result is a patient who then failed to get treatment dies, then clearly they're responsible. Except that in law, the problem is one of proving fraud. You have to show the intent to deceive for personal gain, and if they genuinely believe they are doing good, it can't be shown to be fraud. Searching around for another offence, like culpable delusional ignorance, doesn't work either.

I completely agree that strengthening legislation against the sale of unproven remedies is important, and part of the push to get that involves getting people to accept the notion of evidence. When all this was tried with the case of homeopathy in the UK, the Woo merchants could muddy the waters sufficiently to claim that the evidence was "uncertain", hence no accepted notion of evidence.

In the UK, there's even a London Homeopathic Hospital which gets state funds, precisely because the Woo merchants keep claiming the question of evidence is unresolved, and the naive politicians believe them. There are legal regulatory bodies for chiropractic in the UK which gives false respectability to an unscientific practice, and the people regulating it are all believers.

And any ban on unproven techniques could also restrict genuine medical trials, so it's complicated legislation.

I'm not opposed to legal opposition to Woo therapies, but I can't see it being very effective.
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13315 Posts

Posted - 12/09/2009 :  10:12:00   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Bob Lloyd:
You have to show the intent to deceive for personal gain, and if they genuinely believe they are doing good, it can't be shown to be fraud.

I have been to many "New Age Expos" and I have talked with many purveyors of nonsense, including health nonsense, and most of them really do believe what they are selling works. Some of them have even been "cured" and are now selling whatever curative they think saved their life.

Now in my view, some laws should be in place that would force those producing or offering questionable remedies to provide studies that demonstrate efficacy beyond a placebo effect as a minimum requirement for making the claims that they do. And there should be test protocols in place, that are enforceable before claims can be made. The thing is, the alternative medicine industry is a big one, and they would fight such restrictions tooth and nail. It would not be an easy ride to get legislation that would force them to demonstrate efficacy before market.

And then there is this. Some products are sold with nothing on the bottle to suggest a claim has been made for what is inside the bottle. The claims are in pamphlets kept in another part of the store. Or they are suggested by the seller or by the practitioner, who doesn't even sell the product. There are loopholes big enough to drive a truck through. And even if the law that I have suggested becomes a reality, other loopholes will be found.

For example, B17 is sold online, and probably in health food stores. It's laetrile, a supposed cure for cancer, that has gone through trials and failed. If you look at the site I have linked to, no claim is made about it curing cancer, or anything at all, for that matter. That information is found elsewhere. (I'm not going to bother linking to those sites that trumpet the curative powers of laetrile. They very easy to find.)

So what claim is being made by the seller? None! And yet, you can kill yourself in more than one way taking Laetrile. You might die of the cancer that isn't being treated correctly, or you can overdose on the cyanide that laetrile breaks down to, once ingested.

Education is our best tool. There are always ways around legislation, even though I would like to see some tightening in that area.

Edited to add:

I just found this from a site that sells B17 tablets and raw apricot seeds. Is B17 Legal?

They are happy to explain the loophole that makes it possible for them to sell laetrile, a banned curative.

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Bob Lloyd
Skeptic Friend

Spain
59 Posts

Posted - 12/10/2009 :  07:42:35   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Bob Lloyd's Homepage Send Bob Lloyd a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil

Bob Lloyd:
You have to show the intent to deceive for personal gain, and if they genuinely believe they are doing good, it can't be shown to be fraud.

some laws should be in place that would force those producing or offering questionable remedies to provide studies that demonstrate efficacy beyond a placebo effect as a minimum requirement for making the claims that they do.


Laetrile is a really good example here because labelling legislation typically only insists on the contents being identified. Separating claims into another source stops the legislation working.

But even where they have to show evidence, it's the easiest thing in the world for a big alt-med supplier to fund a trial that generates low grade anecdotal evidence so even if they are required by law to provide evidence, they have something to cite. It doesn't have to be conclusive or detailed research. All it needs to do is to suggest that X has effect Y. Any uncontrolled trial will suffice. Double-blind, who needs it? No regulatory body will demand high standards of clinical evidence. And if they fund their own journals and set up an association, they mimic the same set-up as peer-reviewed science, except it's believer-reviewed.

The people actually setting up the regulatory bodies, those politicians and government functionaries, were all educated into the beliefs of postmodernism in which science was viewed as just one more narrative, just a viewpoint, an opinion, no more valid than any other opinion. To them, as soon as someone shows a disagreement, they assume the answer lies somewhere in the middle, and therefore permit the Woo the space to flourish.

I think pinning down specific Woo claims and challenging them is a useful way to go, and in doing so to expose how the so-called regulation fails to deliver. Passing more legislation and increasing regulation just gives them more legal ways to get a rubber stamp.
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13315 Posts

Posted - 12/10/2009 :  10:04:46   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Bob Lloyd:
But even where they have to show evidence, it's the easiest thing in the world for a big alt-med supplier to fund a trial that generates low grade anecdotal evidence so even if they are required by law to provide evidence, they have something to cite. It doesn't have to be conclusive or detailed research. All it needs to do is to suggest that X has effect Y. Any uncontrolled trial will suffice. Double-blind, who needs it? No regulatory body will demand high standards of clinical evidence. And if they fund their own journals and set up an association, they mimic the same set-up as peer-reviewed science, except it's believer-reviewed.


The kind of legislation I envision would not allow the test protocols to be set up by the companies selling the product. And whatever lab does those studies would not, by law, benefit more one way or the other by the results of the study. But again, the insistence on high quality before market studies are not going to happen for the reasons that both of us have stated. There is just too much money, and a very large industry interested in preserving the status_quo to allow for such a thing. And as you said, there are many with the power to effect change who view science as "just one more narrative" and we are fighting with those people on more than health issues.

And then there is this. Even with legitimate studies done by the NCI here, and again here, and a subsequent banning of laetrile, the alternative medicine industry has found its way around the banning and are still selling laetrile. So, you're right. Even with studies in hand, the market is still there and the product is being sold.

That leaves us with activism and education as our best tools for effecting change. So the question becomes, how do we go about our activism and how do we educate in a way that does not mostly result in our "preaching to the choir?"

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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Bob Lloyd
Skeptic Friend

Spain
59 Posts

Posted - 12/12/2009 :  04:00:39   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Bob Lloyd's Homepage Send Bob Lloyd a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Originally posted by Kil



That leaves us with activism and education as our best tools for effecting change. So the question becomes, how do we go about our activism and how do we educate in a way that does not mostly result in our "preaching to the choir?"


I like the possibilities offered by challenging individual sites who are making unsubstantiated claims. Asking for the evidence helps question their confidence, and if there's a forum, that doubt can be generalised. It's an easy, cheap, and widespread form of activism. I did this to two chiropractor sites here in Spain recently and got one of them to change their site. The other just went silent and stopped responding. It took very little time and had a small effect, but the more of these Woo merchants who are talked to, the more chance that some of them will be drawn towards considering evidence.

Reporting them to any regulatory bodies can have a major impact, as in the case of the chiropractors in the UK. They shot themselves in the foot by deciding to sue Dr Simon Singh for criticising them and the bloggers Zeno and others just reported a whole bunch of them (around 500) for making unsubstantiated claims. The bureaucractic nightmare that followed for the General Chiropractic Council (they have to investigate each case) still threatens to bankrupt them. And in the meantime, they've been advising their members to take down the questionable claims about childhood colic.

We need the sort of activism that can be done a few minutes at a time, spread across large numbers of people, without any cost outlay. But at the same time, we need to post the results so that the effects are broadcast to encourage more activism.

We should also identify those Woo forums which are open to comments and start posting questions and information on them. No doubt some of use will get banned, but many won't be, and the information will filter through.

I also like the idea of a Woo of the month as a focus for a mini-campaign.
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Kil
Evil Skeptic

USA
13315 Posts

Posted - 12/12/2009 :  09:48:49   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Kil's Homepage  Send Kil an AOL message  Send Kil a Yahoo! Message Send Kil a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Bob Lloyd:
I also like the idea of a Woo of the month as a focus for a mini-campaign.

Good idea!

Uncertainty may make you uncomfortable. Certainty makes you ridiculous.

Why not question something for a change?

Genetic Literacy Project
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