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Pseudoscience, Women’s Rights and Skepchicks

Pseudoscience, Women’s Rights and Skepchicks

We have a growing problem on the Left end of the political spectrum. Otherwise politically active and progressively-minded people and media outlets are failing to speak out against, or sometimes even endorsing, dangerously anti-scientific beliefs. These beliefs spring out of New Age spiritualism, or a (perhaps justified) suspicion of government and big business that has grown to include any large organization, or from a liberal respect for alternative beliefs taken a step too far. And these anti-science messages are far-too-frequently targeted to women.

This is a problem. Every person who doesn’t have a basic interest in or understanding of how to look at the world scientifically or think critically is less than fully equipped for democratic citizenship. And every citizen with this problem weakens their democracy in turn. I’ll let one of my heroes, Neil Degrasse Tyson, explain in this short clip.

“If you’re not scientifically literate, you are disenfranchising yourself from the democratic process.”  That about sums it up. Certainly this is advantageous to some individuals and groups who would like nothing more than to circumvent the democratic process (big oil, creationists). But it’s bad news for the rest of us.

The problem is getting out of control because certain influential personages are making their individual ignorance everyone else’s problem.  The pseudoscience I’m focusing on today comes from the Far Left rather than the Right. But don’t expect me to pull any punches. Bunk science is bunk science.

This 2009 Newsweek article talks about dangerous, unregulated miracle drugs certain vain celebrities, like Suzanne Somers, swear by. Somers went on talk shows claiming that the hormones she was rubbing into her skin were harmless and “natural,” a word left-leaning people are suckers for. Yet any trained doctor will tell you that Somers is wrong. Following her medical advice (because self-administered hormone therapy definitely crosses the line into medical, rather than cosmetic advice) could be downright dangerous.

What about “The Secret,” by Rhonda Byrne? A runaway bestseller, its feel-good philosophy is all about personal empowerment and positive thinking, and claims that good things will be naturally attracted to you if you have the right frame of mind. It’s based on not one lick of real evidence. Still, if it makes people feel like they have more control over their lives, how could it do any harm?

Ask Kim Tinkham. This poor, misinformed woman had breast cancer and a decent medical chance of beating it, but publicly claimed her intention to forgo traditional treatment and rely on “The Secret” and dietary changes. She had her 15 minutes of fame and then died needlessly.

What’s disgusting is how heavily this garbage is targeted specifically to women. Daytime talk shows are amazingly credulous about pseudoscience; amongst the legions of researchers and show assistants, it seems no one has any scientific background, or else they just don’t care. Rebecca Watson, contributor to Skepchick and a prominent voice in both the skeptic and feminist movements, has frequently been critical of Oprah for not better vetting the claims of its guests.

But certainly the worst offender must be Jenny McCarthy, who has been a major factor in the American anti-vaccination movement  based on the false premise from a disbarred UK doctor that vaccines cause autism. She did the talk show circuit, gave interviews and was even in talks for her own talk show before the deal fell through.

Since McCarthy’s message first began to spread, each year a few more children have died of preventable diseases (like measles and whopping cough) in the US, Australia, Canada and the UK, due to the misinformed decisions of parents not to vaccinate.

With a little bit of critical thinking and some more discrimination in their endorsements, perhaps these talk shows, magazines and other media would be a less ambiguous source of good in the world. But even if no one had died as a result of the slew of bad medical advice women have been particularly subjected to, we have a big problem here. The implication of every interview that accepts, at face value, scientifically contested claims based on superstitious fads, is that scientific reasoning in women is neither possible nor desirable.

The same magazines and talk show hosts that, one minute, cover a hard-hitting story on child brides in the Middle East, will, the very next minute, feature a conman who pretends to speak to the dead.  The very same channels that are rallying points for women’s rights in the developing world, are paradoxically disenfranchising women from science in the West.

The unspoken argument is that emotion-based decision making and “women’s intuition” are the domain of the “fairer sex,” while critically evaluating technical information is, I suppose, left to the men. The unspoken argument is that women don’t get to engage meaningfully with the issues that arise in a scientific society.

The unspoken argument is that women aren’t full citizens.

No doubt, in many cases, sending such a message is not the intention. But it is unquestionably the result whenever anyone with a large female audience features these kinds of guests without holding them accountable for the truth of their claims. The people providing platforms for such garbage have a responsibility to their public; they cannot claim ignorance as an excuse.

For the women reading this, I’m at least happy to inform you that there are better news sources for women’s issues out there. As a starting point, consider checking out some of the brilliant women on the Skepchick network.

Related stories:

Girls Can Do Math Just Fine, Thanks

Training Jordan’s Next Scientists, One Girl at a Time

“Climate Skeptic” Thinktank Asked to Reveal Secret Funders

http://www.oprah.com/oprahradio/Jenny-McCarthy-on-Autis

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Image credit: Library of Congress

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77 comments

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4:17PM PST on Feb 12, 2012

So anyone who challenges current main stream science is a scammer or deluded, and all experience by anyone not a mainstream scientist is worthless according to this article.

REALLY?!! did you ever hear the expression "first they ridiculed our ideas, then they threatened us, and finally they decided they would accept it, (when they found away to profit from it.)
Of course main stream scientist have never been accussed of fraud and are not influenced by corporate money or pressure, yeah right!

Allopathic doctors don't over prescibe drugs or perform unneeded operations or kill people through incompetence. No that Never happens.

The problem with so called skeptics is their skeptism is totally one sided against anything alternative but is totally uncritical of the Establishment.

For an alternative skeptical viewpoint see SCEPCOP.

8:50PM PST on Feb 9, 2012

Neil Degrasse Tyson is pretty awesome. He did a series of astronomy videos back before I was scientifically literate, but I got to enjoy a couple of them recently.

1:21PM PST on Feb 7, 2012

Some things that began as nonscientific (e.g., during the time period where science strove to claim a clear divide between mind and body) are now becoming proven by science (i.e., mind influencing biochemistry, etc.). In research there are levels of credibility--promising, probable and proven is one such taxonomy. Just because something is not yet proven does not mean it is disproven.

4:54AM PST on Feb 6, 2012

One last answer to John D. Your exact words were you were happy that I had been lucky enough to be healthy in my life,please go back and read your own words. If that does not imply that luck made me healthy I do not know what does. But that is off point. I was unaware that you live in another country. The fact that Morroco does not allow drug advertising is wonderful and you should be proud to live where the government is wise and honest and places high value in its people. It also explains why you have no idea what the drug companies are doing to people in America. The advertising is constant and aimed at brainwashing the public into to thinking they need drugs to be healthy even when they are not sick. There is a huge difference between what the drug companies are doing in my country comparede to what they are doing in yours. Subscribe to researchers and doctors like Mike Adams, the health ranger, Dr. Jonathon Douglas, Dr. Joseph Mercola, Dr. Jonathon V. wright, just to name a few of the dozen or more I subscribe to and read books such as Marsha Angel who was with the New England Journal for years and tells of how the drug companies have done things like lowering the numbers on tests like cholesterol just to get more people on their statins and not because of the science. I have stacks of books and magazines filled with experts that have blown the whistle on the drug companies. Your country appparently does not cater to the drug companies so I can understand why you do not

5:26PM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Robert. As I live in Morocco, I have no idea what Celebrex is. And I am unlikely to watch ads. Fortunately here, as in the UK, the advertising of prescription medicines is banned.

Regarding aspirin, the latest multi-country study on the benefits of aspirin was not carried out by a drug company.

I don't think I'm twisting your words. Perhaps you meant something different:

"Look around first hand and see the terrible condition that most people are in. To deny all the evidence is foolish. People are not sick because of a lack of drugs."

You said this right after stating that the media had been corrupted by Pharma advertising.

Let's shade things a little more. I thank you for your answer about rabies. You are the first person who takes your position to have answered this. I uinderstand your position on life threatening emergencies. I just want to understand your position on when an emergency stops being one. Would it be an abcess caused by an insect bite? Eg., no antibiotics? Or protozoal explosive diarrhoea? Eg,., no anti-amibiasis treatment, no drip? And yes, you are healthy and may have a smaller chance of getting these conditions than others.

As for twisting of words, I don't think I ever said "luck" plays a part in health.

5:07PM PST on Feb 5, 2012

I just noticed that John D had one more comment I did not see.I did answer your question.It is in writing. I said we have the best emergency medecine on the planet. If I fell and got hurt or got bitten by a rabid animal I would get a shot or take treatment. Those are emergencies or accidents . In no way do I implie that being healthy makes me invincible or immune to rabies. And I did not blame drugs for all disease. People that twist other peoples words and also ignore facts are usually not well informed and argue for the sake of arguing. My point is the corruption of medicine and the problems with the drug companies. If you trust the drug companies in light of the evidence than you are looney, on their payroll, or just plain want to ignore the facts and argue. Please do not try to twist what I have said.

4:36PM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Sorry but missed a few points. To John D. Luck has little to do with good health. Being educated and paying attention is key. Another point of proof of the toxicity and side effects are the law suits against drugs that seriously harmed or killed people. And the drug companies do most of the research now days and are notorious for altering the results or lieing by omission. The fox guarding the henhouse. A good example of the lies is the one about taking asperin daily to prevent a heart attack. And yet if you watch the commercial for Celebrex, the pain releiver, they say at the end that nsaids including asperin can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Caught up in their own lies. All the points I have made can be viewed in plain sight any day of the week. One easy source is your TV. If anything I have said is not true please tell me.

4:33PM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Robert P.

Thank you for your post. However, in no way was it an answer to my questions.

Robert, I think you have things arse-backwards. People take medicines because they are ill, not because they are "healthy and active". In addition, is the burden of your argument that you would never get, say, septicaemia or rabies because you "take good care of yourself"?

Yes, health is a very complicated topic and there are many factors affecting it. Lifestyle choices, environment, genetics and the rest. But to blame "big pharma" for disease or to say that pharma is causing this is just looney.

4:03PM PST on Feb 5, 2012

In answer to John D, I have fallen while playng tennis and I have pulled muscles etc. Because I have taken good care of myself none of those things were a problem. In an emergency I believe we have the best care in the world. It is the ongoing health info that is corrupt. It is not an all or nothing situation. Exceptions do exist. But the vast majority of mainstream has been corrupted. I do not blindly follow, I question everything from all sources. And I read from all sources. It is a passion and because of it I am very well informed. I subsribe to a lot of doctors, researchers, and scientists and observe first hand the proof all around me. Only a fool does less. I approach everything with an open mind. The only way to truly learn. The evidence is overwhelming of the money driven and corrupt mainstream, especialy the drug companies. Have you ever seen a healthy , active person that takes drugs. I have not. The evidence is right in plain view. The drug companies and FDA allow side effects of cancer, tuberculosis, heart attack, stroke, Kidney disease, liver failure or disease etc. and they openly admit this. The drug companies spend close to 300 billion on advertising. Do you think the media is not influeced and corrupted. Look around first hand and see the terrible condition that most people are in. To deny all the evidence is foolish. People are not sick because of a lack of drugs.

7:53AM PST on Feb 5, 2012

Yay! Great article, especially on a site that I see a lot of woo-woo on.

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