I’ll probably get kicked off the blog for saying this, especially after Rebecca’s post about airborne, but…
Hello, my name is Stacey, and I take Vitamin C.
I live in a warm climate and every year, in the dead of winter, I vacation up north. More than once I’ve gotten the flu on day 2 and spent my entire vacation feeling like crap instead of enjoying my family or my time off. A couple of years ago I decided to see if there was anything I could do to prevent that, so I went to the local GNC and was educated about the “vitamin C flush”. They basically claim that if you take 10,000 mg of vitamin C granules per day, for three days, you’ll be cold and flu proof. The taste of the granules is so strong that the only liquid with a prayer of disguising it is cranberry juice. It’s a very tart three days. So this year I found myself a week away from my vacation and seeking solace at the GNC again. There among the miracle weight loss teas and antidepressant herb capsules, I felt like a big skepchick fraud. I’m well aware that there’s absolutely no conclusive evidence that vitamin C prevents or cures anything except scurvy. I just felt like I should do SOMETHING to try to prevent the flu from ruining my vacation.
And I started thinking about how religion can be the same type of placebo. Psychologically, we humans have a lot to deal with here on earth. Why am I here? Does my life even have a purpose? Does anything I do matter? Do people that get away with bad things ever get punished? If not, is there any point in being good? What will happen to me after I die? Will I just not exist anymore? Religion provides answers to all of these tough questions in a nice neat little package. Religion is the SOMETHING that people do, so that everything makes sense, which makes life so much easier to face.
Moreover, psuedoscience in general is what we do when something is important to us, and we have no control over it. Worried that a loved one won’t make it through an operation? Say a prayer. Want to be happy, healthy, and thin? Take some herbal supplements. Unfinished business with a deceased family member? Have a psychic channel him or her. Worried about the flu ruining your vacation? Take vitamin C. The question then becomes – is it ever acceptable for a skeptic to hope something will work, even though it’s unproven?
Obviously there is harm in getting carried away with one’s pseudoscience and/or going on a mission to proclaim something works when there’s no solid evidence to back it up. When the keeper-of-the-woo is fighting to [insert thinly veiled reference to Creationism/ID litigation], that is a problem. But are there some skeptical sins that could be considered harmless placebos? If not, how far do you take it? No lucky underwear? No birthday wish? Switch from “bless you” to “gesundheit”?
When it comes to skepticism, is it all or nothing? Or is there a continuum?