Monday, February 24, 2014

america's temple of pseudoscience

dailybeast | Americans get riled up about creationists and climate change deniers, but lap up the quasi-religious snake oil at Whole Foods. It’s all pseudoscience—so why are some kinds of pseudoscience more equal than others?

If you want to write about spiritually-motivated pseudoscience in America, you head to the Creation Museum in Kentucky. It’s like a Law of Journalism. The museum has inspired hundreds of book chapters and articles (some of them, admittedly, mine) since it opened up in 2007. The place is like media magnet. And our nation’s liberal, coastal journalists are so many piles of iron fillings.
But you don’t have to schlep all the way to Kentucky in order to visit America’s greatest shrine to pseudoscience. In fact, that shrine is a 15-minute trip away from most American urbanites.

I’m talking, of course, about Whole Foods Market. From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort (more on that later), Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares. And if you want a sense of how weird, and how fraught, the relationship between science, politics, and commerce is in our modern world, then there’s really no better place to go. Because anti-science isn’t just a religious, conservative phenomenon—and the way in which it crosses cultural lines can tell us a lot about why places like the Creation Museum inspire so much rage, while places like Whole Foods don’t.

My own local Whole Foods is just a block away from the campus of Duke University. Like almost everything else near downtown Durham, N.C., it’s visited by a predominantly liberal clientele that skews academic, with more science PhDs per capita than a Mensa convention.

Still, there’s a lot in your average Whole Foods that’s resolutely pseudoscientific. The homeopathy section has plenty of Latin words and mathematical terms, but many of its remedies are so diluted that, statistically speaking, they may not contain a single molecule of the substance they purport to deliver. The book section—yep, Whole Foods sells books—boasts many M.D.’s among its authors, along with titles like The Coconut Oil Miracle and Herbal Medicine, Healing, and Cancer, which was written by a theologian and based on what the author calls the Eclectic Triphasic Medical System.


Nakajima Kikka said...

So, is organic the new kosher/halal?

Nakajima Kikka said...

The growing popularity of homeopathy, herbal treatments and use of food as a straight up substitute for modern medicine is not a fad. It's a permanent trend, and its popularity will only continue to grow.
In the longer term, it means that modern medicine is more-or-less finished in the U.S. The American people are rapidly losing faith in its power to heal. It's not a question of cost or access. More and more Americans simply do not believe that modern medicine works.

Nakajima Kikka said...

This is great social science.

CNu said...

For its true believers, it clearly partakes of the collective "identity politics" mystique of religious dietary strictures. For those who prey on "true believers", it's a goldmine of snake oil sales opportunity.

For those struggling to assert control and achieve some form of biological permanency - nothing beats meddling with the diet and the bowels - This was a mysterious center of activity amongst my hometown's nutty elites back when I was a kid.

Nakajima Kikka said...

I don't see what this has to be such a problem. Just pair the leggings with a skirt and they'll look fine. That's what all the Asian girls do.

John Kurman said...

i could never get behind anything that restricts my entry to paradise through dietary choices. Might as well cut the end off my penis while your at it....

DD said...

umbrarchist said...

Freedom of speech means free to talk bullshit.

Trying to sort out so much bullshit is so much work.

Vic78 said...

"...maybe the IQ test isn't that reliable."
Henri Poincare didn't do to well on his iq test. How many people have been limited because of a shitty iq score?

makheru bradley said...

The Empire's Peace

John Kurman said...

Yes, but it is well documented that modern Americans are a superstitious, savage, primitive and paranoid people, and so fuck 'em. There's a dustbin called History that ain't half full yet.

CNu said...

IQ tests are reliable, but they don't test for genetically heritable traits. THAT's the fundamental error/fallacy undergirding BD's credo. Well, according to the
Platonic conservative, it means that the first group is comparatively
stupid and unworthy because they were born that way. The members of the
second group are where they are because they are comparatively smart and
they were born that way. This is certainly nothing that the father of
modern IQ testing - Alfred Binet would have argued. Instead, Binet
constructed an altogether different kind of test intended to subserve an
altogether different kind of objective. I wrote about Binet in response
to David Mills - Binet's theory goes a little something like this;

the middle of the 19th century, industrialization in America and
western Europe forced a growing demand for universal public schooling as
the means by which children could be taught the skills and values
desired by industry. It was in this industrially oriented educational
climate that the French minister of education Alfred Binet, director of
the psychology laboratory at the Sorbonne, developed a testing procedure
capable of identifying students in need of special schooling. The task
as defined was essentially a technical one, and Binet approached it in a
straightforward practical fashion. He amassed hundreds of questions
drawn from the school curriculum and covering a broad range of

basic idea was to design a test which could be given to children of
varying ages and on which children at a given age or grade level would
do either well or poorly - depending on whether they were already doing
well or poorly in school. Preliminary versions of the test were given to
small groups of children whose scores were compared with their teachers
ratings of classroom performance. In the process, items were added or
deleted in order to bring about the closest possible correspondence
between test performance and educational age norms.

In its final form, Binet's
test provided an index of scholastic performance based on the
prevailing standard of scholastic success. In other words, scores on his
test generally correlated with the ratings assigned by French teachers
in the classrooms of his day.
By using teachers judgements of classroom performance as the standard
by which his test was validated, Binet established a practical basis for
its use as a predictor of success in the school system. Because his aim
had been to identify children who required special schooling, he did
not require, nor did he assert, a theory or definition of intelligence.
Moreover, he did not make a distinction between acquired or congenital
feeblemindedness and he never argued that poor performance on his test was a sign of innate mental inferiority.
On the contrary, he sternly rebuked his contemporaries who contended
that intelligence is a fixed quantity that cannot be augmented.

Now then, what do we know about schools and about the performance of Black children in
schools? (that first link is a whole book by John Taylor Gatto - The
Underground History of American Education - which makes the following
extraordinary contention; The
shocking possibility that dumb people don’t exist in sufficient numbers
to warrant the millions of careers devoted to tending them will seem
incredible to you. Yet that is my central proposition: the mass dumbness
which justifies official schooling first had to be dreamed of; it isn’t real.)

Tom said...

For BD, a peek at the man behind the curtain of his "peer review" idol

As I've pointed out before, nobody who actually does research thinks of peer review as much of a quality guarantee!

BigDonOne said...

BD has peer-reviewed technical papers and dinged those that didn't pass the smell test. Professional reputation is not achieved without actually *presenting* at least some of one's papers at conferences. These events are real ego-tripping cat fights if anything is presented at all controversial, even in the most minor details. And the relevant comments are published in the conference proceedings. Anyone seriously respected in a profession has survived these grillings and their published works are cornerstones of their professions.

In particular, Murray, Rushton, Jensen, Lynn are/were all battle-hardened veterans of such wars who suffered little technical embarrassment at conferences because no serious research is/was available to challenge anything asserted. The available data overwhelmingly backed them up and their conclusions all made rational technical sense. Even if many folks found their conclusions [OMG !!] *offensive*. They have *NOT* however been found *wrong*.

Now (BD knows what yer thinkin'), what about Flynn's work that shows significant recent IQ increases across the board. -- Bogus, dude -- What Flynn really reflects is peoples' vastly increased awareness of the world due to media growth in the last few generations (movies, TV, cable/satellite, and internet) plus perhaps improved health and nutrition. But basic brainpower has not greatly increased. People who wrote the Constitution, and who advanced the industrial revolution, were *NOT* idiots as backward extrapolation of Flynn would suggest. And, of course, all the offensive "gaps" have remained unchanged, or actually gotten worse, due to higher-powered technological abilities necessary to compete in the modern world......

Tom said...

As always "BD" changes the subject, then launches on a lengthy off-topic tirade. If BD wants to make sure every reader here knows BD has no sensible response to my points, then BD is taking the right approach.

And as always "BD"'s remarks make it plain that BD has never been involved in research or publication in any way.

CNu said...

When talking about the cited cabal of elderly/deceased racists, we should be very clear that we're only talking about the recent followers and would-be further developers of Arthur Jensen's theory.

Both Lynn and Rushton have had their crackpot theories and evidentiary work discredited - for theoretical clownishness - and for falsifying data,

Murray is not a scientist at all, rather, he is an establishment supported political propagandist whose fame and notoriety for popularizing Jensen's theory goes faaaaaaar in excess of any purportedly scientific work with which he could be associated. Now that the contraction has begun to seriously socio-economically impact poor whites, Murray is on about the withdrawal of elites as a primary factor accounting for decay, rather than any of his broadly discredited and as yet unevidenced ascriptive genetic theories.

CNu said...

lol, he made his typical appeal to the exceptionally dubious authority of the two-inch punisher contingent. Taken on their merits, not a single "member" of this contingent "stands-up" to critical scrutiny.