Well, they did it. In November I wrote about how the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) flooded the house of a scientist who was involved in animal research. They said they really wanted to torch the house, but just flooded it instead. What heroes. Via BPSDP to Blue Collar Scientist, I just learned they came back on February 4th and set an incendiary device on her porch. I’m not sure how much damage was caused, but the device apparently did ignite and cause some damage.
I’ve moved most of the external links to the right
hand column, and moved the internal links to the left. TypePad suggests this will result in quicker
loading since with the three columns layout I use, the entire left column has
to load fully before the center column starts loading. External links often load slower.
So do you think the blog loads any quicker? The same?
That’s often the fallback of woos when the lack of evidence for their claims is exposed – “what’s the harm?” The desperate last argument goes something like, “OK, maybe there’s no evidence for [brand of woo], but what’s the harm in believing it?” Of course, it’s a red herring - paint the skeptics as mean for arguing against their harmless woo, and they can escape having to admit their woo is nonsense.
Of course, woo does cause harm. Just ask Mark Klass or the parents of Shawn Hornbeck, for example. Or the police who are forced to waste time chasing the lame guesses of “psychics” such as Allison Dubois. Don’t forget the time wasted by the authorities looking for Elizabeth Smart’s dead body where the PsiTech fraudsters claimed it was buried.
So called “alternative medicine” might not harm people directly (homeopathy’s only water, after all), but when it causes people to adopt quackery in place of the real medicine that could save their lives, it does do harm.
As I’ve said before, all skeptics should have responses such as the above, ready. The Skeptics' Dictionary has a What's the harm? archive that is worth consulting. Now there is also a website called What’s The Harm? It aims to record the numerous instances where woo has actually verifiably caused harm. As they say, “2,427 people killed, 117,711 injured and over $115,461,902 in economic damages”. I think the $902 at the end is pretending a degree of accuracy that isn’t really there, but minor niggles notwithstanding, it’s a great resource.
The site is pretty new and is of course a work in progress. If you have any examples, the webmaster would love to hear from you. The strength and success of this site in my view, will be in submissions they receive from readers, so please consider sending them any cases that you are aware of. Please read their criteria, and check first that the case you’re submitting isn’t already there. Also, include citations to support your case – it is a skeptics’ site, after all. The webmaster has the following tips, if you feel like being proactive and searching for some additional cases with The Google:
Tip 1: Simply combining the name of some form of woo with the word "died" or "injured", often gets amazing results. For example, "naturopath died".
Tip 2: Use the archive search on Google News. You can search older news at Google. There are tools there to limit the year as well.
Tip 3: Please check the site to see if I already have the case! No sense wasting your time on something I already have. However, if you find a link that is better than the link I'm using on a given story, feel free to send that in.
Tip 4: Pick a category I don't have many cases in. If you don't have a favorite form of woo that you would rather concentrate on, browse the whatstheharm.net topics list and pick a topic I have under 20 cases in. (There are a bunch). This makes it easier to avoid having to scroll through stories I already have while searching.
Tip 5: If you have non-web resources available, use them. Anybody have access to Lexis/Nexis or other non-public databases? Many news web sites cycle their stories very quickly. I've had some of my links go stale just in the four months I've been doing this. But those pay databases keep everything. I'm thinking the same search techniques that I mention above might work well there.
Given time I expect the number of cases included to be huge.
Of course, some woos will argue that, for example, real medicine can also cause harm, medical mistakes are made, wrong medications prescribed etc. That’s of course true, but real medicine also has a benefit and so there is a risk / reward trade off. Woo has no benefit and so there is no risk / reward trade off, only risk / risk. This site aims to quantify some of that risk, and certainly shows that woo does, in fact, cause harm.
Some twit called Nicholas D. Kristof writes in the New York Times that criticizing religion is the same as racism or sexism:
At a New York or Los Angeles cocktail party, few would dare make a pejorative comment about Barack Obama's race or Hillary Clinton's sex. Yet it would be easy to get away with deriding Mike Huckabee's religious faith.
Liberals believe deeply in tolerance and over the last century have led the battles against prejudices of all kinds, but we have a blind spot about Christian evangelicals. They constitute one of the few minorities that, on the American coasts or university campuses, it remains fashionable to mock.
Those poor downtrodden Christians again who are, don’t forget, the minority in the US with no money no resources and no power. Oh wait, no they’re not. Fortunately Ed at Dispatches From the Culture Wars puts Kristof’s silly argument in its place. Ed calls it a category error; I’d say it was a false analogy. Read Ed’s whole piece – I couldn’t have said it better. (Well I’m sure I could, but read Ed’s piece anyway.)
Anyway, thinking about this yesterday, it occurred to me that woos just love argument by analogy – in fact they’d be totally stuck without it. Here’s how it goes:
Racism is bad
Criticizing religion is like racism
Therefore criticizing religion is bad
Notice they didn’t have to show any actual evidence that criticizing religion is bad. Standard woo – no facts, evidence or logic, so argue by analogy instead. Here’s the thing - if I had to argue that racism is bad, I wouldn’t think of an analog to racism that we all agree is bad, and say “hey, racism’s the same”. No, I would explain why racism is bad. With perhaps some facts, citations, logic, evidence. Of course, I could do that because racism is, actually, bad, and so the facts logic and evidence are there to support the statement. Woos don’t have anything to back up their position, so analogy is often all they have. Where would Michael Behe do without Mount Rushmore? Or a mousetrap? And what would Kristof have written about without racism or sexism?
When someone argues by analogy, you can be pretty sure it’s because they don’t have any facts, evidence or logic to support their position. And all you have to do to debunk their argument, is find the flaw in the analogy.
Ron at The Frame Problem informed me of a University’s refusal to recognize an atheist group. The vice-president of the club, blogging in Cosmopolitan, has the actual response to the atheists’ application, from the Campus Clubs department:
While the Campus Clubs department understands the goals and visions of your organization, they are not compatible with the guidelines of what may be approved and incorporated into our department. While the promotion of reason, science and freedom of inquiry are perfectly legitimate goals, what is most in question in regards to your club’s vision is the promotion of “a fulfilling life without religion and superstition“. While this university is indeed technically a secular institution, secular does not denote taking an active stance in opposition to the principles and status of religious beliefs and practices. To be clear, this is not meant to say that the promotion of science and reason are illegitimate goals. But due to the need to respect and tolerate the views of others, the Campus Clubs department is unable to approve a club of this nature at this time.
I’m afraid they don’t understand the meaning of the word “tolerate”. To “tolerate” the views of others doesn’t mean you can’t criticize them, it just means you don’t prevent those views from being heard. Only by actually trying to prevent views from being heard – for example, by refusing to approve a club whose views you may disagree with – are you being intolerant. I guess they also need to look up the word “irony”.
Once again, despite the nice sounding wording (that it took them nine months to craft), what we have here is the usual intolerant attitude of the religious, whose only response to people who don’t accept their delusions – is to ban them. And yes I know, this group hasn’t been “banned”, strictly speaking. They can still exist (I presume); they just don’t get the freebies the religious groups get. But make no mistake, they would ban this group if they could. And this group isn’t even an in your face atheists’ group. Their name is the Laurier Freethought Alliance.
The Freethought group recently responded in an extremely conciliatory way, in an attempt to get the decision reversed, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens. But why should they have to kowtow in this way? Can you imagine a Christian group (in the West) having to explain itself in such apologetic and conciliatory terms to get approved? If you can, I’d like to hear about it.
This Sunday February 3rd will be the third anniversary of this blog, and as with previous years I've revisited the numerous kooks we met in the last year, and thought about how they would answer the age old question: why did the chicken cross the road? See my post commemorating 2006’s first anniversary, Why did the chicken cross the road?, and the 2007 version, Why did the chicken re-cross the road? for the previous versions. And with no long-winded preamble, I give you 2008’s version of:
Our vaccines are making chickens cross roads because of the mercury in them. How many more chickens are crossing roads every year because there is so much mercury everywhere? Amish chickens don’t cross roads, neither do Christian Scientists’ or Scientologists’ chickens… (continued next year).
"Perverts Without Morals" chose to deliberately mock Jesus Christ, Christians and The Last Supper, by depicting a chicken in the place of Jesus Christ. An egg can clearly be seen in front of the chicken, and we Christians will no longer tolerate this abuse nor be silent.
The chicken didn’t thank Jesus for its crossing the road award. This is disgraceful. The chicken needs to make a swift and unequivocal apology to Christians. If she does, she will get this issue behind her. If she does not, she will be remembered as a foul-mouthed bigot for the rest of her life.
I'm very angry about it because people are going to get salmonella - there is absolutely no reason to think that homeopathy works to prevent salmonella and you won't find that in any textbook or journal of homeopathy so people will get salmonella, people may even die of salmonella if they follow this advice.
I have this magic quantum box that can tell me exactly where in the world a chicken is crossing the road. All I need is a piece of the chicken’s DNA. Look, I said DNA. Also GPS. So this must be science, science, science! That is what is so fantastic about it. It’s just science. That’s it. I have no idea where Madeleine McCann is though.
It’s disgraceful that we experiment on chickens by seeing if they can cross roads. Send back any products from companies that make chickens cross roads. Terrorize the scientists who work for them. Pass me my pain pills. They’ve been fully tested on chickens, right?