The animals can absorb the nutrients from plant matter only in the small intestine, but food is digested in a part of the gut that’s farther downstream.” So how do plant nutrients finally get into the rabbit’s bloodstream having already passed through the small intestine undigested?
“They secrete these things through their anus, eat them,” and pass them back through the small intestine, Hanken explains.
And then he adds, “Now you tell me, where’s the intelligence in that design?”
Check out the hilarious Fundies Say the Darndest Things! Website. It’s a round-up of the nuttiest of the nutty posts on fundamentalist discussion boards such as Christian Forums, Christian Message Board and of course Rapture Ready. It also includes posts by fundamentalists on atheist forums such as Internet Infidels. You would think from reading them that these are made-up quotes, but they are all actual posts made by real people during online debates. They are funny for the reason that they were all obviously written with such serious intent.
One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn't possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.
A powerful argument. Still, I’m confident that sooner or later scientists, working diligently, will locate and identify this external source of energy that provides light and heat to planet Earth. Quite a day that will be.
The site owner suggests memorizing a few favorite quotes to tell to your friends, to instantly become the life of the party. (If you don’t know where to start, just use the search page and the keywords "babies" or "gravity": more than enough comedic gold to last all night.) This practice comes with a warning though: once you start this it’s hard to stop. Before you know it you have spent a whole evening reading this stuff. You have been warned.
As an aside, if you’ve ever wondered why these people are called fundamentalists, here’s the reason: it’s because they speak out of their fundament. You heard it first here.
The argument is that since science is sometimes wrong, the believer’s claim is as likely to be true as one supported by scientific evidence.
The flaw in the argument
Science is a series of provisional truths, backed by evidence, that are amended when better evidence is available. The key word here is “evidence”. In other words, we have a reason to suppose scientifically supported ideas are true. Contrast this with unscientific ideas, where there is rarely any rational reason to suppose they are true. Additionally, the scientific idea that was shown to be “wrong” was often not completely wrong: it often still had utility.
In reality, science has proved the most reliable method we know for evaluating claims and figuring out how the universe works. The appeal to “science was wrong before” is just a smoke screen to disguise the fact that the believer has no evidence for his claim. It does not follow that science should not be applied to evaluate claims, or that unscientific claims are likely to be true.
What they’re missing
As well as being a flawed argument, it also shows ignorance of how science works. Yes, science has been wrong, but the scientific method is self-correcting. And it is always scientists who have unearthed new evidence who do the correcting, never people who ignore the scientific method.
Ironically it also shows up the strength of science and the weakness of believer methods. For example, compare the way scientific errors are discovered and corrected, with what happens in, for example, astrology or alternative medicine. In those fields no errors are ever corrected for the simple reason that no one ever critically tests those beliefs to see if they even contain errors. Errors are a permanent feature of those beliefs. Error recognition and correction is a strength of science.
There are several versions of this fallacy. For example, believers often cite Newton being proven wrong by Einstein. Of course, Newton’s calculations are close enough for anything other than close-to light speed calculations – that’s why Newton’s formulae are used by NASA.
Alternative medicine proponents will often note that evidence-based doctors are sometimes wrong in their diagnoses, as if this means altie therapies work. Doctors are fallible and our knowledge is incomplete, but the evidence-based approach has led to huge advances and improvements in healthcare, unlike alternative treatments that have achieved virtually nothing.
It seems the local government in San Francisco is determined to drive as much business away from the city as possible. Legislation was introduced Tuesday by Supervisor Tom Ammiano to require all San Francisco businesses with 20 or more workers to pay for health care insurance:
The ordinance, submitted by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, would force businesses not offering medical coverage to their workers to set up health savings accounts and pay $345 a month per employee into them. Businesses would use the savings to buy health insurance for their workforce.
The $345 is what it costs the city government per month to cover each of its workers.
Under the legislation, a task force would be created to examine whether companies that say they can't afford the $345 a month should be allowed to pay a lower, unspecified fee directly to the city -- and the city would provide coverage or direct medical care.
Great. Just what businesses in the city need: another set of government forms to complete and another government audit to comply with, to determine if they can afford this new tax for doing business in SF.
Some people who actually know about running businesses think this may be a bad idea:
"Supervisor Ammiano calls his coverage 'universal,' but the only thing universal about the Worker Health Care Security Act is the universal damage it will do to San Francisco's economy," said Mike Flynn, director of legislative affairs for the Employment Policies Institute in Washington, D.C.
"Expanding insurance coverage is a laudable goal," Flynn added, "but you can't wave a wand and do it by legislative command. His proposal would slap San Francisco's businesses with staggering costs and lead to tremendous job loss among the city's least-skilled workers."
Nathan Nayman, the director of San Francisco's Committee on Jobs, a lobbying group for downtown business interests, echoed the point. "This is going to have a negative consequence on business in the city. There's just no doubt about it," Nayman said.
Jot Condie of the California Restaurant Association... said restaurants and other small businesses typically operate at small profit margins. If Ammiano's legislation passes, it would likely drive them out of town, he said. "The fact that it's a city proposal, the notion of flight from San Francisco and its tax base really is a relevant point."
Ammiano doesn't agree:
Businesses that offer health care for their workers have higher productivity, he said, and do better in the marketplace.
There have been reports that a 15 year old Nepalese boy is the reincarnation of Buddha.
Ram Bahadur Banjan, 15, sits cross-legged and motionless with eyes closed among the roots of a tree in the jungle of Bara, about 100 miles south of the capital, Katmandu.
Many visitors believe Banjan is a reincarnation of Gautama Siddhartha, who was born not far away in southwestern Nepal around 500 B.C. and later became revered as the Buddha, which means Enlightened One.
It’s quite a show, with 10,000 people reported to be visiting the site to view the boy each day. One of the things that has people excited is the claim he has gone six months without food or drink – miraculous if true. The Royal Nepal Academy of Science and Technology has even been asked to send scientists to look into it.
Actually I don’t think they need to go to all that trouble. I think the answer to how he apparently manages without food or drink can be found in this snippet:
Mahat said visitors can catch a glimpse of Banjan from a roped-off area about 80 feet away from him between dawn and dusk.
Followers then place a screen in front of him, blocking the view and making it impossible to know what he is doing at night, Mahat said.
"We could not say what happens after dark," Mahat said.
Ah-So - he goes without food during the day. Unusual perhaps, but not especially enlightened.
A six-year study at Bristol Homeopathic Hospital shows over 70% of patients with chronic diseases reported positive health changes after treatment.
Of the group, 75% felt 'better' or 'much better', as did 68% of eczema patients under 16.
But “felt better” compared with what?
From the BBC’s report it is clear that there was no:
Control group – ie no group being given a placebo. (Of course, homeopathy is nothing more than placebo, but you know what I mean).
Randomization of patients selected for the trial
Baseline measure of how the patients were before treatment, to compare with how they were after.
A test this bad should never have been performed, let alone published. Let there be no doubt this shows the lack of scientific rigor needed to get a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
Of course, the dopey homeopaths have been quick to trumpet the success of this crappy study:
Dr David Spence, Clinical Director and Consultant Physician at Bristol Homeopathic Hospital and Chairman of the British Homeopathic Association, a co-author of the new study, said: "These results clearly demonstrate the value of homeopathy in the NHS."
No they don't. All they show is that when asked by the homeopath treating them if they felt “better”, 75% of patients said “yes”. Let’s be clear – a recent review of 110 homeopathy trials published in the Lancet shows homeopathy is nothing more than placebo.
There is a lot of crazy stuff out there. For example, I have recently been looking at the Gentle Wind Project website. As far as I can tell, these people offer little plastic cards that you hold in your hands to achieve “physical and emotional balance” in the face of traumatic events such as the tsunami. They were supposedly designed by benevolent “non-physical entities living outside the Earth's physical and astral systems” who communicate telepathically with the project’s leader, John Miller. No kidding.
Here’s one of the cards. Apparently they’re in laminated plastic. The detailed instructions for use are on the card. (Er, you hold it between your hands.)
And this piece of plastic, sorry “instrument”, can not be “bought” for money, oh no. They are offered in return for suggested “donation requests” that range from $650 for the card to $10,000 for a thorough overhaul from the “New World System V 2.2”. What a deal.
And if you don’t believe they work, check out these pictures of satisfied customers who are tsunami survivors (I refuse to copy the pictures of these people to my site). Look at their happy faces. I’m sure those little pieces of plastic were a great comfort to them.
An “instrument” more advanced than the card is this healing hockey puck. Carnegie Mellon Professor Dave Touretzky has acquired pictures of these devices (suggested donation $300 to $450, although he says new models go for $5,850) taken apart. This is what the puck consists of: a round plastic container housing a printed computer art design and a small amount of sand. That's it!
This is what its deconstructed components look like:
Impressive huh? But don’t forget, it was designed by aliens so it will provide “physical and emotional balance”, even if humanity isn’t ready for an explanation for how this pile of sand and plastic works. (No refunds.)
The way they work is extremely complex and cannot be understood by anyone in humanity at this time.
Told you. It gets better:
Remember - most people have no idea where their electricity comes from, how their radios, televisions, how their auto engines run, computers work, or satellite GPS systems work, let alone the complexity of high frequency temporal shifting matrixed with millions of predefined etheric modifications operating in a vertically and horizontally oriented polarization. If this sounds complicated and confusing - it is. This ultra complex process is set in motion by our Healing Instruments which are essentially a "Key." A temporal and spatial gate is created when a Healing Instrument is held. This "gateway" or window enables an individual's entire etheric system to interface with a very large, complicated, partially automated, predefined healing process. The more complex the Instrument the wider the "opening" and the deeper the penetration into the human system. As you can see, the Healing Instruments are only a small part of the entire process. Our healing technology incorporates an elaborate sentinel system which prevents anyone from "breaking into" or corrupting the system in any way.
Because some people don’t know where electricity comes from, this card works. I’m convinced. And um, well yeah, if it has high frequency temporal shifting matrixed with millions of predefined etheric modifications operating in a vertically and horizontally oriented polarization, it must be good.
Unfortunately for the very curious, this is the best explanation, shallow as it is, that we can provide right now. Some day in the future when humanity is ready, we will explain in more detail how the Instruments and the total system works.
Ha so grasshopper – one day you will understand. Just not yet. (In 2012, perhaps?)
It’s total pseudoscientific nonsense, of course.
Of course it’s nonsense, but (as someone once said) there’s nothing so dumb you can’t get someone to believe in it. A more serious criticism of the Gentle Wind Project from former members Judy Garvey and her husband Jim Bergin is that they are a mind-control cult. The Wind of Changes website details their 17 year involvement with the group, including claims of sexual manipulation, as well as financial ruin. (The description fits the bait-and-switch profile of other cults.) Bergin describes how little by little the organization gained more control over his family’s life and life savings:
It happened so slowly and subtly that I was not cognizant of the process at the conscious level. Had someone asked me early on whether I would submit to handing over a large part of my income and life’s savings, give up a nurturing and valued relationship with my wife, take a back seat to seeing and parenting my children, sell the business I loved, and live in greatly reduced circumstances, I would have laughed at the idea. But, as I will describe here, the process was deceptively subtle, pervasive, and persistent.
The Gentle Wind Project denies these claims and has filed a defamation lawsuit and a RICO (racketeering!) Federal lawsuit, claiming punitive damages. Bergin and Garvey have filed a Motion for Summary Dismissal (.pdf file). The lawsuit is continuing, with a trial (if there is one) not slated until at least February 2006.
Rick Ross, who runs a database of cults, destructive cults, controversial groups and movements, has several articles on the Gentle Wind Project. Rick states "in my opinion the group appears to parallel the criteria for a destructive cult”.
It’s all tax free!
It gets better. The Gentle Wind Project is registered as a not-for-profit organization. Translation: it’s tax free. The most recent 2001 tax returns (.pdf file) linked on their website show revenue of almost $1.57 million against expenses of $1.53 million. These “expenses” include $67K for “boat”, $89K for “electronics” and $66K for “shop”. They state “the majority of our funds have been spent on education and research” – research into boating, shopping and enjoyment of electronics, apparently.
As a private, nonprofit corporation known as "Gentle Wind Retreat" the project is exempt from federal income taxes, much like a church, a hospital or a private college.
The latest Form 990 filing shows GWP net assets of $2,077,324 as of August 31, 2003, up from $1,918,205 the year before. Revenue for the 2002-03 fiscal year totaled $1,969,923, with expenses totaling $1,810,804.
You can buy an awful lot of sand and plastic (and electronics), for $1.8 million. The aliens must be living it up on their yacht.
According to a source who has read a draft of the script, it begins with Stan leaving a psychiatrist’s office only to be hailed as a savior by the leaders of a strange, Scientology-esque cult because of his off-the-chart results on an E-meter-like “personality test.” A group of Hollywood A-listers quickly gather outside Stan’s house, we’re told, with Tom Cruise somehow ending up stuck in a closet—leading a news crew stationed at the scene to report that Cruise’s fans fervently want the actor to “just come out.”
The episode, Featuring Tom Cruise, is called “Trapped in the Closet”. It’ll be interesting to see how they cover this story, although I hope it’s funnier than most other recent episodes. South Park is not as good as it was, in my opinion.
The mythical Voodoo curse is based on the principle of sympathetic magic: the metaphysical belief that like affects like. It is sympathetic because if you stick a pin in the voodoo doll’s leg, the person you are cursing is supposed to feel a pain in their leg. It is magic because there is no known reason to suppose this would ever work.
It is the same with homeopathy: its proponents treat an illness with something that they say would give a healthy person the same symptoms as the illness they purport to treat. Again, there is no reason to suppose this is true; it was just made-up by homeopathy’s founder, Samuel Hahnemann. And homeopaths go on to dilute this “medicine” until there is not even one molecule left on the basis that this makes it stronger. (Seriously – I’m not making this up.)
Although homeopathy has been shown by all well designed studies to be nothing more than placebo, it continues to be popular for the same reasons that many altie remedies appear to work. But not only with people: there are homeopathic veterinarians too. The thing to remember is that unlike human medicine, the law states that only qualified vets are allowed to treat animals. This is because animals can't choose for themselves. Therefore while the law leaves people free to go to unqualified quacks if they like, they can't do that with their animals.
This creates a paradox. If vets were prohibited from offering SCAM treatments such as homeopathy, there would be no legal way for animal owners to access them. A responsible regulatory authority would simply say tough, we don't allow non-evidence-based treatments to be used, and that's that. However, the British Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons’ (RCVS) attitude is that it's better for owners to be able to take their animal to a vet who will provide Supplementary, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (SCAM) treatment, than risk them going (illegally) to a lay quack. Consequently, the RCVS sanctions homeopathy.
Many real (ie evidence-based) vets were angered by this invasion of quackery into their field. Some of them decided to strike back with humor. Enter the satirical British Veterinary Voodoo Society (BVVS) website:
In light of the gratifyingly supportive attitude of professional bodies (including the RCVS and a number of UK veterinary schools) towards systems of medicine based on magical thinking, the BVVS believes the time has come to extend our professional scope beyond the areas covered at present, and exploit the full potential of the discipline.
The principle of voodoo healing is simple. As 'like affects like', an appropriately manufactured and treated wax doll or cloth puppet may substitute for the patient, and manipulations performed on the doll substitute for those performed on the patient. Techniques of visualisation and channelling of healing are easy to learn, and it is possible to combine voodoo with 'conventional' or allopathic medicine simply by administering the medicine to the doll rather than to the patient.
Well, if homeopathic vets can treat sick animals with useless homeopathic remedies, why not try voodoo? It has about as much a chance of working as homeopathy. They go on to list many commendable aspects of voodoo veterinary practices, including my favorite:
Scientific credibility. Clinical trials are still in their early stages, however we are confident that by performing a sufficient number of small, poorly-controlled investigations we will easily generate enough p<0.05 outcomes to be able to claim with absolute assurance that the method is well proven by properly conducted double-blind research.
Of course, the BVVS is a satirical site, founded by veterinarians who are angered that homeopathic vets get to treat sick animals with sugar pills while claiming it is real medicine. And they are justified in being angry. It’s one thing if humans want to take homeopathic remedies: first, they have a choice; second, they might just possibly benefit from the placebo effect. Animals on the other hand have no choice and zero chance of benefiting from placebo. Frankly, I think treating a sick animal with a homeopathic remedy, when there is real medicine available, is animal cruelty, but these quacks get away with it. The BVVS is a welcome dose of (undiluted) reality.
This is where things become almost surreal. In May 2005, a homoeopathic veterinary surgeon called John Hoare happened upon the BVVS web site, didn’t like it, and submitted a formal complaint to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons alleging unethical conduct and conduct disgraceful in a professional respect. He claimed the vets involved in the BVVS site made "derogatory remarks" about veterinary homoeopaths – something not allowed according to their professional code of conduct.
One of the BVVS founders has started a thread at JREF, describing what happened:
[John Hoare] then submitted a less-than-coherent complaints form, against "the Officers of the British Veterinary Voodoo Society", wittering on about "unethical conduct" and "conduct disgraceful in a professional respect", because the web site "writes disparagingly about other veterinary surgeons" (also about the RCVS itself - we do criticise the RCVS for sanctioning homoeopathy as part of veterinary medicine, in fact that is really what the site is about - and about homoeopathic pharmacies and pharmacists).
Supporting his complaint he submitted photocopies of four actual pages from the web site, but oddly enough not including the two pages containing the strongest criticisms of homoeopathic vets, even though one of these was the actual page his search linked to. (I wonder if there were other points made on those pages which he didn't want to put in front of the RCVS?) And also one page which isn't part of the Voodoo site at all, but is part of Peter Bowditch's Millenium Project.
This last was extremely dishonest, because he had cut off all the headers and footers from that page which identify it as part of the Millenium Project, and typed in instead "Page of BVVS website". This was obviously the source of the claims that we had been rude about homoeopathic pharmacies and pharmacists, and in fact this page contains the only really derogatory language included in his evidence. I don't know what he hoped to achieve, because it is the work of a moment to show that we didn't write that page, and frankly it makes him look a fool.
A homeopath being dishonest and looking like a fool. Fancy that. Look at what he was demanding:
The outcome he is seeking is "The officers of the BVVS should be instructed to unwind their organisation. The use of the pseudo-qualifications VetMFVoo and VetFFVoo should be stopped immediately." (Huh! We don't USE the damn "qualifications", unlike him and his mates, who plaster the equally pseudo-qualifications VetMFHom and VetFFHom all over their stationery.)
Get that? He is insisting that the BVVS stop using their satirical VetMFVoo etc titles (that they don’t use – they’re satirical), while at the same time he actually will continue to use his pseudo-professional VetMFHom title.
The real scandal is that the RCVS, instead of dismissing this case out of hand, has apparently decided there is a case to answer and that despite the many criticisms that have been made, still sanctions treatment of animals with sugar pills. Apparently it is illegal in Sweden for vets to practice homoeopathy (they can be struck off for it), and the Dutch are moving that way too, but in the UK and the US it is accepted
I'm surprised to see your Science Daily site has a horoscope page. I've written about astrology a few times: surely you know that astrology is made-up pseudoscience that fails every scientific test? It's already hard to get people to understand what science is, and how it is different from pseudoscience. Aren't you making this job more difficult by encouraging belief that astrology somehow belongs in a scientific publication? I'm assuming you can't seriously believe astrology is anything but nonsense.
I'd be interested to know why you have an astrology page, and if you would consider removing it from your scientific journal.
I hear you -- and the dozens of others who have written to me about this recently -- and I'll remove the astrology items from ScienceDaily immediately.
What happened was that we recently licensed a commercial newsfeed from UPI -- not just their science news, but everything -- general news, science, business, sports, entertainment, you name it. I thought that would be OK to offer our readers, even if not all of the content was necessarily science-related. However, I didn't realize that the "Quirks" feed in particular included horoscopes.
Having said that, I realize that astrology is particularly offensive to a large number of our readers, and so I'll work to explicitly exclude anything to do with astrology in the scripts we use to display the UPI feeds on ScienceDaily.
Thanks for bringing this to our attention. Let me know if you have any questions.
Thanks Dan. I can easily understand how something like this can slip in under the radar. Kudos to Dan and Science Daily for recognizing the error and offering to correct it.
Back in February I reported how pro footballer Terrell Owens, who broke his leg in December, was OK to play in the Super Bowl only seven weeks after surgery. Owens claimed his recovery was part of God’s plan to give him an even bigger platform during Super Bowl week than he otherwise would have had, thus proving God's greatness:
If you believe in miracles, just wait until Sunday… Do you believe in God? Read John, Chapter 11. That's all about believing.
He was suspended Saturday, two days after he said the Eagles showed "a lack of class" for not publicly recognizing his 100th career touchdown catch in a game on Oct. 23. In the same interview with ESPN.com on Thursday, Owens said the Eagles would be better off with Green Bay's Brett Favre at quarterback instead of McNabb.
Surely not? How can God have allowed this to happen? And how did Owens explain being deserted by God?
Wait – Owens apologized:
A contrite Terrell Owens, hoping to overturn his dismissal from the Philadelphia Eagles, on Tuesday apologized to coach Andy Reid, quarterback Donovan McNabb, the team's owner and president, and fans.
So did God slip up in allowing his protégé to be suspended? Or was his whole purpose all along to show Owens apologizing? Yes, that must be it. God wanted us to see Owens apologize – I believe!
Terrell Owens with his mouth shut – IT’S A MIRACLE!
Not as hard as I would have liked. But it was a smack.
Bill Maher (HBO Friday) doesn’t quite believe vaccines are necessary. Given the opportunity he will freely spout that illnesses are caused by toxins and lifestyle choices, and that vaccines don’t really work. He tried that line last Friday with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who was having none of it. From the transcript (you’ll have to click on “Episode 323: November 4, '05):
GUPTA: Well, wait, the vaccine might still have some – some benefit. You know, Bill, it's like so many other things in life. You know, I think doctors and health care professionals are reticent to just throw up their hands and say, “We're screwed, there's nothing we can do.” [laughter] The vaccine might help a little bit.
MAHER: But there is something we can do. We can accentuate more the theory that it's the terrain that the virus and the bacteria invade. It's like the mosquito in the swamp. That's what the virus is. It's a mosquito. But it wouldn't be dangerous unless it had a dirty, polluted swamp to breed in. In other words, our bodies. If we were healthier and we boosted our immune system more, then we wouldn't have to fear these viruses. Isn't that true, Doc?
GUPTA: You know, but, Bill, I'll challenge you – I'll challenge you on this. I don't think that just by eating right and exercising is going to necessarily keep you safe from bird flu. I mean, that's just the way it is. You know, I'd like to believe you, Bill. I'd like to believe you, Bill. I'd like to believe that you can live a good life, live a healthy life and be impervious to all these attacks and all these viruses. But, Bill, we're talking about 50 million people died in 1918. And not all of them were eating shit every day. [laughter] You know, I mean, that's just the way it goes.
Gupta, as CNN’s viewer-friendly (read “good looking”) face of medicine, was polite and diplomatic on Maher’s show. More polite that I would have been, to be sure. But at least the point was made that you can’t avoid the flu just by eating right. Sure, if the virus mutates the vaccine may not be effective against the new strain. But that doesn’t mean the vaccine is a waste of time or that you can defeat a virus by just eating right.
Did Maher hear? I doubt it, but at least his viewers heard him being contradicted by an expert on the subject. Good for Gupta.
About 150 evangelicals – 40 families – will be expelled from their homes in San Nicolas, Hidalgo state, at the end of October, according to a town council vote on Saturday, October 1.
“Of the population of 8,000 inhabitants, 70 percent consider themselves Catholics and have decided to end the evangelical religion.” A local Catholic priest has tried to persuade the town to practice religious freedom, once announcing through a loudspeaker, “We are all children of God,” but townspeople cut off the amplification as he spoke, according to the report.
Catholic town leader Noe Gerardo threatened reporters who were present that they would be burned and no longer allowed into San Nicolas if they repeated the priest’s message.
I’m referring to her performance against Kevin Trudeau last night on CNN. Trudeau is the author who claims there are natural cures for all illnesses, and that modern medicine is a fraud. Trudeau is a quack who has been banned by the FTC from giving his infomercials. I give Zahn a B minus because although she put up a bit of a fight against Trudeau, she missed the obvious rejoinders and was generally lame.
ZAHN: I want you to hear a new warning about one of the most familiar faces on late-night TV infomercials. Kevin Trudeau is a convicted felon and has no medical training, yet he has sold millions of copies of his self-help book. Tonight New York's Consumer Protection Board says Trudeau is selling customers' names without their permission to tele-marketers and junk mail companies.
The Consumer Protection Board also say it's received complaints that customers are charged unexpected fees and have trouble getting refunds. Well, before this latest warning, I had an in-depth interview with Mr. Trudeau about his infomercial empire and the scathing criticism he's received from some medical professionals.
TRUDEAU: Of course medical doctors are going to say they don't believe in what I'm doing because the whole book is about exposing the medical business for what it is. Fraud.
ZAHN: Fraud is something Kevin Trudeau knows about first hand. In 1991, he served a two-year prison term for credit card fraud. He's also had several run-ins with the Federal Trade Commission for years over false claims.
In 2003, he was fined $2 million over claims made for his coral calcium supreme. Trudeau was banned from selling products in infomercials and banned from selling health products in any format at all. But his constitutional right to free speech allows him to use infomercials to sell his book and newsletter.
So far OK. But the direct questioning segment that followed showed up the shallow nature of Zahn’s knowledge:
ZAHN (on camera): You're the only person ever to have been banned from selling a product by the FTC. You have absolutely no medical training, you are a convicted felon. Why should anyone listen to what you have to say about health matters? TRUDEAU: Why should anyone listen to a medical doctor about health?
ZAHN: One would assume they have training that would reinforce what they are advising their patients to do.
TRUDEAU: You would assume that. These are the same experts who told us to use Vioxx that killed 150,000 people. These are the same people that kill 900,000 people a year.
Blah blah. So what? Instead of pressing Trudeau on why we should believe his claims, she has allowed him to red-herring the discussion away from Trudeau’s claims and on to the supposed problems with conventional medicine. But even if all modern medicine was a complete fraud it still wouldn’t mean that Trudeau’s quackery suddenly magically works. You’ll note Trudeau has not offered one shred of evidence for his claims.
Here’s where she really goes wrong:
ZAHN: David Johnson, vice president of the American College of Gastroentrology… says some of Trudeau's suggestions could actually be harmful.
TRUDEAU: Such as?
ZAHN: Digestive enzymes. He says, quote, these enzymes are very caustic and TRUDEAU: OK.
ZAHN: And that they're typically only prescribed for people with pancreatic problems.
TRUDEAU: That's a doctor giving his opinion. Now, is that a fact or his opinion?
ZAHN: This is his opinion.
TRUDEAU: Does it say...
ZAHN: And what you write in your book is your opinion.
TRUDEAU: Correct, and that's the point.
Wrong – but that is the point. Zahn has allowed Trudeau to define the debate as being about opinions. Doctors and scientists have their opinions; Trudeau has his opinion. They’re all just opinions. And Trudeau’s opinion should have as much weight as that of the doctors and scientists. Wrong! The views expressed by David Johnson are not opinions, they are conclusions arrived at through examination of masses of independent peer-reviewed evidence. Trudeau’s claims however, are just opinions. Badly informed ones.
Zahn allowed Trudeau the smokescreen of this “opinions” argument for much of the rest of the interview. She also allowed Trudeau to claim that his book contains over 900 studies that support his position, without calling him on the fact that these are not published studies. She then fallaciously argued from anecdote by quoting a dissatisfied Trudeau customer. Naturally this played right into Trudeau’s hands: he was then free to argue from the hordes of testimonials he said he has. But testimonials are irrelevant to both sides.
This is a fairly clear-cut case. Trudeau’s claims are not backed by evidence and in many cases are actually directly contradicted by the evidence. If a senior news “anchor” like Zahn can’t understand this is not a question of “opinions”, how will she deal with more complex issues? Of course we know the answer – “badly”. Just look at much of the media coverage of the Intelligent Design debate – it’s all he said / she said debating talking heads. But all opinions are not equal: the Earth is not flat; humors do not cause sickness; Intelligent Design is not science; and Kevin Trudeau is a quack.
At the end, Zahn makes it fairly clear where her opinions lie:
ZAHN: And we want to stress again that Trudeau's book is based only on his opinions. He is not a doctor, a scientist or a medical expert. He is a salesman with no medical training to speak of. And tonight, under fire from a state board in New York.
It’s only a pity she couldn’t justify that claim in a direct debate with Trudeau.