Skepticism

Afternoon Inquisition, 4.10

This week, I went out for drinks with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time.  We somehow got on the subjects of chiropractors, massage and detox and I spent a happy few minutes giving them some tips on what was crap and what was reasonable to expect from these things.  I always enjoy when skepticism bleeds into my meatverse!

Have you had the opportunity recently to help someone think more critically or skeptically about something? Bonus points if it’s not on the internet!

P.S. Atlanta folks, don’t forget Skeptics in the Pub is TONIGHT.  Heidi Anderson is speaking plus we’re hoping to get some visitors who are in town for the American Atheists convention so come on down – you never know who may show up!

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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20 Comments

  1. Sure. A friend of mine began talking about how the non-religious ultimately have less valid romantic relationships than the religious because they deny god – and over the course of the ensuing fight, I got him to admit that he actually had no way of backing up this claim, and that it had more to do with him wanting to find a way of justify religious belief than with any actual knowledge of the relationships that non-religious people have. He has since, as far as I can tell, dropped this belief, and seems to now regard it as the bigotry that it is.

    I have demonstrated to many family members that someone can be both non-religious and moral, and in so doing have found that they now argue with their fellow believers who try to claim that non-believers are immoral.

    I also have started keeping a website on which I collect various ghost stories, and provide commentary that is not a debunking of the stories, but provides directions for people to think about the stories as stories and not as recountings of true events. I am hoping that this works to motivate at least some folks to consider paranormal beliefs a little more carefully.

  2. Yeah I have a RL friend that always asks questions and such about what’s BS and what’s real. To the point where she is starting to pick up on the BS on her own.

    It’s nice to know I’ve had a hand in raising someones crap detector.

  3. I teach a game programming class at the local community college. There is a lot of dogma in the Tech Geek world and I try to get my students to evaluate all claims critically and not just buy into what seems popular or what everyone on slashdot is saying.

  4. Whenever this stuff comes up, I try to politely address it without phrasing it as an explicit debunking. This happened most recently with an acquaintance who was into 2012 stuff. Rather than going for a hardcore debunking speech, I just explained my own alternative theory about the (non-supernatural) significance of the Mayan Calendar and calendar systems in general.

    Also, my mom watches Oprah, so there’s that. Whenever she brings something woo-y up, I always refute it. I feel like I can be a little more harsh with my mom, precisely because we already have a close relationship and I trust that she knows my criticism of the idea she’s passing on is not a criticism of her. So I feel perfectly comfortable using the “Well, actually…” approach with her, where I wouldn’t do that with someone I didn’t know.

    Whether that worked or not, I don’t know. I think I got her to stop using Airborne, but she still watches Oprah…

  5. My oldest son was once considering a career as a Baptist minister. I don’t equate skepticism (necessarily) with atheism, but he’s decided to follow his talents into engineering instead, and is reading God Delusion after I sneaked in onto his Kindle.

    I *think* I helped convince an otherwise intelligent young woman wtih a degree in engineering that she did NOT need to go on a diet of lemon juice and cayenne pepper to ‘detox’ her body.

  6. Have you had the opportunity recently to help someone think more critically or skeptically about something?

    Constantly. Most recently last night.

    My buddy had seen the Ray Comfort banana video, and was laughing at how riduclous it was. He basically said, “Can you believe someone would use the banana to prove intelligent design?”

    And I said, “Actually, bananas of the type shown in the video do prove intelligent design. Not the kind Comfort believes in, but they were created through cross-breeding by men to be tastier, less seedy, and easier to grow.”

    My buddy realized he had indeed thought critically, but that he had stopped when his own biases were met. Sometimes there is more to the story.

  7. A good friend of mine was telling me that she saw a great new product and that she wanted to buy it. Turned out it was those detox footpads. I convinced her it was a waste of money. Of course the same friend also bought tickets to see John Edward. I told her I’d go with her as long as I could sneeze “douche” really loudly when he came out.

    My husband also used to believe that the moon landing was hoaxed. It took a very comprehensive presentation from me and months and months of gentle mocking to convince him otherwise.

  8. My roommate no longer buys dietary supplements, and my girlfriend is now suspicious of her chiropractor, though she continues to go. I’m slowly trying to switch her over to a physical therapist, but she’s been seeing the chiropractor for years, so there’s a bit of an emotional investment.

    That and I think she’s a bit less afraid of admitting she’s an atheist.

  9. Oh all the time. I’ve seen a couple coworkers taking Airborne, so I sent them a link to the news story about the class-action suit the company lost, because I figured that’d be an objective, non-dickish way to broach the subject. One responded something like “well, there’s no HARM in taking it”, but whatever, the seed’s been planted.

    Also my dad has cancer, so we’ve had one or two people tell us about Zeolite and shit like that. Got me and my mom on the topic of “alternative” medicine, at which point I pointed out that once an “alternative” treatment actually has evidence for it, it’s no longer alternative, it’s just plain medicine.

    Same boat as Joshua though – she still watches Oprah.

  10. I’m defiantly happy my mom doesn’t watch Oprah. However some of my golf buddies go to chiropractors and while I’ve tried to explain the absurdity of subluxations, they remain fairly convinced its all good medicine and helps. I have been able to get one guy to read about the risks of neck manipulations.

  11. I haven’t had any real success stories lately, though I have a friend I’ve planted seeds of suspicion about chiropractic with, and I’m trying to gently water them. And I did get a joke out of it. I recently started seeing a chiroproctologist. Never heard of it? Let’s just say it’ll straighten out your spine.

  12. I had a friend spouting WTC Troof. After walking away cursing under my breath (he was only an engineer tech, after all) I went back and politely explained where the BS was and how REAL Forensic engineers (some of whom were friends of mine) had done arms-length investigations of actual debris, and had determened the failure mechanisms. I also told him about Charles Pelligrino’s book and the Pentagon book (forgot titles)
    To give him credit, he said “Huh, that makes more sense.”

  13. my students have to research a different logical fallacy every week as part of their homework.

    I realized that most teachers say they want students to “think critically” but very few teachers spend time on the nuts and bolts.

    They seem to like talking about logical fallacies more than their “regular” homework, which is nice.

  14. I’m not as good at this as I’d like, mostly because I have a terrible memory and never have the relevant facts ready to go.

    That being said, as an astronomer I get to do a lot of public outreach (star talks, planetarium shows, etc). I’ve laid out thorough arguments for the ridiculousness of astrology more times than I can count using props and various visual aids. Precession of the equinoxes is always a big hit and has definitely gotten a few people to at least start *thinking*. My mom still insists its all true, though.

    I think I’ve walked a few people back from 2012 worries and taken out one or two people suspicious of the Moon landings. That’s about all.

  15. A co-worker was feeling out of sorts one day and announced her intention of going to a homeopath as her “regular” doctor didn’t seem to be helping her. I vigorously tried to talk her out of it. I explained the the basic fallacy of homeopathy and that homeopaths were quacks, etc.

    She went anyway. She says now that she feels better than ever. After I explained the placebo effect to her she tuned me out.

    Sigh.

  16. Oh yah. My mom is into the whole natural foods thing (can’t blame her, so was I) and thought all the detox stuff had merit. Lucky my mom’s a smart lady who’s comfortable with having her assumptions challenged, so that nonsense went like fish out of a barrel.

    My boyfriend is a stickier situation. He believes in ghosts and spirits and stuff that’s in the ether, which is a little bit more difficult to simply refute.

  17. I belong to a pagan forum. I encourage skepticism there every day. Sometimes it’s quite an uphill battle…

    And my mom is into a lot of the pseudoscientific nat stuff like netti pots and detox and wheatgrass. I gently try to get the facts to her to convince her that these things aren’t what they are advertised to be and she’s just being had.

  18. Ah, Man! I’m way late in responding to this one. In any case, just last week a co-worker and I were talking about the royal family via the Obama visit to speak to the Queen. I mentioned that Barmy Prince Charles was into homeopathy, naturopathy, and what-not. I asked the co-worker if he had taken chemistry in college and he said, “yes” so I went into a description of how homeopathic remedies are naught but water and woo.
    He was very surpised by my description and told me a story from years ago about being helped by a homeopath in his apartment building with his alergy. He’d spent months working with his medical doctor with no improvement but, after a couple of weeks of the homeopathic remedy, he was right as rain.
    We then spent 30 minutes in a very intelligent and agreeable discussion of the many other explanations of why his symptoms happened to disappear. Top of the list: several months of conventional treatment plus several weeks of woo-treatment equals the end of pollen season.

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