Anti-ScienceScience

The hidden dangers of pseudoscience

Last week, a woman in india was tied to a tree and beaten by a mob for being a witch. When this headline first came up on my blackberry, I thought ‘oh great, another story about ignorance causing people to claim some poor woman is a witch.’ But when I read it in detail, the story has more to it. The woman was actually claiming to be a faith healer and was selling her services as such. She was paid by a man to help his wife:

Ram Ayodhya, who could face up to seven years in prison for his role in the attack, told police he was justified in beating the woman, Tiwari said.

Ayodhya said he paid her to use magic and prayer to improve his wife’s health.

When his wife’s condition deteriorated, Ayodhya accused her of performing black magic and weighing the same as a duck, Tiwari said, and a crowd soon gathered and tied her to the tree.

This is one reason why Sylvia Browne’s book “Bringing My Teachings and Love to India” isn’t written yet.

Now, I am certainly not condoning this man’s behavior, or the behavior of the crowd in resorting to violence. But I think this story demonstrates the hidden dangers of pseudoscience. By making claims that don’t actually have any foundation, you can get into some serious trouble if you can’t produce what you claim you can. And if you claim to do woo crap like faith healing, it’s tough to scoff when the howling mob (literally in this case) accuses you of doing DIFFERENT woo crap like black magic and witchcraft.

Maybe she should have claimed that there was a more powerful wizard somewhere LIKE MAYBE YOU SIR RIGHT THERE who was casting the bad juju and she was actually fighting to keep her alive as long as she could. It’s not like that would sound too crazy for these people to swallow.

Take heart, though, there are folks trying to fight the good fight in India. As I mentioned in a previous post, the India Rationalist Association challenged one of the top tantriks in India to demonstrate his power on live TV. He failed and now the show is available for your viewing pleasure on YouTube – Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3.

Enjoy!

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Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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10 Comments

  1. “there had been other such occurrences of mob justice in the state.

    In Bhagalpur district in August 2007, a man caught trying to snatch a woman’s chain was beaten up, with police looking on, and later tied to a motorcycle and dragged around by a police officer.

    In September, in Lucknow’s Wazirganj area, an angry mob beat a man to death after a 2½-year old girl was allegedly found sexually assaulted and murdered in his house”

    What is it with all the tying up?

  2. By making claims that don’t actually have any foundation, you can get into some serious trouble if you can’t produce what you claim you can. And if you claim to do woo crap like faith healing, it’s tough to scoff when the howling mob (literally in this case) accuses you of doing DIFFERENT woo crap like black magic and witchcraft.

    Indeed. Those who live by the woo just might die by the woo.

    ~Wordplayer

  3. Oh, good. You had added the Python reference. For a second there, the “duck” line made me think that perhaps the story was an early April 1 prank.

    I really wish people wouldn’t go around beating the crap out of each other. The violence is horrid, but perhaps when the woman recovers she will be of a more skeptical mindset.

  4. “That, boys and girls, is what’s called karma.”

    Technically, not. Karma is being reborn as a fruit fly because you were an asshole in your previous life…or perhaps in this case, as a duck.

    You could say it was Providence (Christianity), Kismet (Islam), Nemesis (Greek goddess of divine retribution), or the Flying Spaghetti Monster hurling a divine meatball at her (Pastafarian).

  5. Actually, while karma follows you into the next life and, in the Hindu tradition, determines you’re station (caste) in life as decided by the God’s, it also affects you in this life. Personally I prefer the Buddhist tradition which leaves divine guidance out of karma, although I like the idea of the Flying Spaghetti Monster out there somewhere hurling Meatballs of
    Justice.

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