Skepticism

The Skeptic Next Door: Joey Haban

We realized that while we are out and about being Skepchicks that we have made a lot of wonderful friends and we are very fortunate to run into new skeptics on a regular basis.

It occurred to us that it would be fun to introduce some of the wonderful people each of have met to the rest of our friends and readers. Since there are Skepchicks scattered all over the planet now, we will be able to gather new skeptics,Joey 1 critical thinkers and scientists from across the globe together here on Skepchick creating a global community of rational thinkers. With that idea in mind we are starting a new regular feature here on Skepchick called, The Skeptic Next Door. We will be interviewing fantastic skeptics and science minded folks from all walks of life and from wherever we may roam and we will be bringing those interviews to you here on Skepchick!

I am proud to kick this feature off with an interview with a lovely skeptic from my neighborhood in Los Angeles, California. Allow me to introduce, Joey Haban.

Click below to read the interview.

What first got you interested in skepticism? When did you realize you were a skeptic?

I’ve been a skeptic of sorts as long as I can remember. Even as a kid, I thought how lazy and unimaginative it was to label unknown phenomena as “ghosts” or “aliens” when the real explanation was probably more interesting. (And I learned how unpopular that point of view can be!) Some years ago I picked up Michael Shermer’s book, Why People Believe Weird Things because of my lifelong curiosity about that question. By the end of the book I had learned three things: what skepticism is, that I was a skeptic, and that I wanted to know much more.

How has skepticism helped you in your personal life?

It led me to understand that I’m an atheist, which really solidified my worldview. It also may have saved my life. When I was first diagnosed with Graves’ disease (an autoimmune illness that affects the thyroid), an online support group taught me to apply my skepticism to my own treatment, to learn to read my own labs and not necessarily accept everything my doctor told me. And it turned out he was giving me, no kidding, 20 times the amount of medication that I needed, and I was starting to lose function. That experience has served me very well.

Tell us about your blog, Newly Nerfed.

The Graves’ went into remission but I then became disabled by chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). I’ve always been very active and I had just begun a very exciting academic career, and then by 2009 I was unable to work. I don’t take well to being a lady of leisure, and of course there’s always a shortage of blogs so I thought I’d do my part and start one up. The term “nerfed” refers to a game item or power that is later rendered less powerful (like a Nerf gun), and I’d been using it to describe myself, as a joke. I hoped the title “Newly Nerfed” would convey the blog’s focus: adjusting to new disability by the sheer power of geekiness.

Was your blog intended to be a skeptical look at chronic illness and treatments?

joeyNot originally. I didn’t think I was ready or even qualified to do that. And then right around when the blog launched, I had this very classic come-on from a quack with some book to sell about his medical pseudoscience, and I figured that I could write about it. That post got some favorable attention and showed me that the skeptical community is welcoming to people of all backgrounds. I don’t even try to cover what all the big guns are talking about; I mostly try to stick to my own experiences, and show that I’m working on becoming a better critical thinker myself. And talk about videogames.

How do you filter through all of the medical advice being directed at you?

If I look into a treatment and I see it mentioned only in “natural” or “alternative” medicine sites, nowhere science-based, then that’s a big clue to ignore it. When people complain that their symptoms are completely unpredictable, yet are able to discern that something magically helped them, that makes me think of the “correlation equals causation” fallacy. I also like this truism commonly repeated by chronically ill critical thinkers: “If there were a miracle cure, we’d all know about it by now.” Still, CFS is such a jumble of problems — aside from the medical definitions that do include a group of specific symptoms — I’m apt to give anecdotes from fellow patients more weight than is skept-ceptable, especially if their etiology is similar to mine. And I discuss everything with my science-oriented, but open-minded, M.D.

Other than your blog what skeptical outreach organizations do you participate in?

I became editorial manager for Grassroots Skeptics in January, and I’m a member of the Skeptic Society. I’m also starting to get involved with the Independent Investigations Group here in L.A. There’s only so much I can physically do, but I really get a kick out of meeting up with other skeptics when I can.

What advice would you give someone who is newly diagnosed and dealing with a chronic illness?

Keep a personal copy of everything that goes into your medical file. Learn everything you can about your illness, apart from what your doctor tells you, from well-known sources such as the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, etc. This process can be overwhelming. I have found online chronic illness communities to be very gentle and welcoming to newbies and I strongly suggest taking advantage of their knowledge and experience. If something doesn’t add up in your treatment, ask about it, because your doctor is not infallible. Stick with science-proven therapies at least at the beginning of your treatment. And if you do later investigate alternative medicine, please don’t ever go to NaturalNews.

What advice would you give someone who is just becoming involved in skepticism?

There is so much out there that I would warn against becoming overwhelmed. That’s later for you to enjoy! Pick just a couple of blogs, and a couple podcasts to start, and a couple of books or Joey 9maybe a magazine subscription. The most popular blogs and podcasts are also the ones that will cover (and often helpfully summarize) the skeptical news of the day. After that, branch out and follow your interests. And if there are any skeptical meetups in your area, by all means go!

What are your favorite skeptical and medical resources?

I like Science-Based Medicine, White Coat Underground, NeuroLogica, and Respectful Insolence for their rejection of unscientific medical bullshit. I always hope one of those blogs has covered any alternative treatment I’m trying to research. Snopes is an oldie and remains a goodie. There are too many blogs to list, but two of my favorites are Skepticblog and Weird Things. And I love the usual skeptical podcast suspects, as well as others that make learning and critical thinking seem fun, like Stuff You Should Know and Radiolab.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Joey! This has been the brand-spankin-new and official first edition of, The Skeptic Next Door brought to you by your pal, Surly Amy!

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics. She is the fearless leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Follow her on twitter: @SurlyAmy or on Google+. Tip Jar is here.

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10 Comments

  1. Cool to find out more about you, Joey. :)

    I’ve had Hashimoto’s disease and a goitre for the past decade. Thyroid diseases are very debilitating, and often hard to diagnose – strangely, Sylvia Browne seems very adept at diagnosing thyroid disorders…

  2. Joey, you look fantastic! It’s also nice to hear a story about how researching medical conditions online can lead to skepticism. Too often you hear stories about exactly the opposite.

  3. @Karen Stollznow: That’s because Sylvia Browne IS a goiter. Seriously, though, sorry about the Hashi’s. I hope it’s well controlled; I wouldn’t wish hypo hell on anyone. Well, except Sylvia Browne.

    @Jen: Thanks, Jen! It was odd to think back to how I learned skepticism from that group. Unfortunately, I think too many chronically ill people take healthy skepticism too far into flat-out medical paranoia…but after my experience I can’t entirely blame them, sometimes!

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