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Things to do next year…

It’s a cold, rainy (finally) day in Atlanta. I was considered being productive but the weather is cruddy, my puppies are warm and snuggly so I decided to just have a quiet, lazy Sunday. Tomorrow is the last day of 2007 and I’ve been thinking a lot about the year I’ve had. It’s been busy and I’ve accomplished a lot at my ‘regular’ job but I think I’m most proud of the work I’ve done on my blog and this one and the people I’ve met and the things I’ve learned over the past few years in joining the JREF and other skeptical organizations.

But, as I’ve been sitting here, watching Clear and Present Danger on the History channel (really), I realized that this is no time to rest on laurels. In the past hour, I’ve seen about a dozen commercials for Japanese ‘detox foot pads’ and for ‘Dr. Frank’s Homeopathic Pet Pain Relief.’ Pseudo-science and fraud are alive and well, folks.

Someone recently told me that people stupid enough to get suckered in by psychics or frauds pretty much deserved what they got. There are certainly days when it feels like that’s true and days when I wonder whether it’s worth bothering to help people who seems so determined to sabotage themselves.

But then I remember that about 6 months ago, my beautiful husky got sick. We didn’t know what was wrong and the vet couldn’t find anything wrong with him but he stopped eating. Then I came home from work and found Vandal dead. That day, and in the days leading up to it, I would have pretty much done anything if someone had told me it would help keep him healthy and alive. I might even have considered Dr. Frank’s homeopathic crap.

The thing about being human is that we’re all susceptible to making illogical decisions based on our emotions. If it’s your family, your child, your pet, your own health even at stake, you don’t always think straight. And it’s our responsibility, each of us, to recognize this and to help each other. I believe the best way we can do this is by constantly questioning, constantly asking for evidence, constantly demonstrating critical thinking so that when we and those we love are in those situations that try us most strongly, the logic and the questions come as naturally to us as the emotion.

But we should avoid being demeaning about people who fall for frauds. If I was willing to consider that kind of thing to keep my dog alive, can I really mock someone who just lost a parent and wants John Edward (or even John Edwards, for some reason) to help them say goodbye?

If I told a friend that sometimes I still talk to Vandal, what would I want them to say? “You know, of course, that Vandal was cremated after you paid $42 to that girl with the inappropriate giggle at the emergency animal hospital, and there’s no chance of him responding because he has no physical form and never had a spirit one”?

I don’t think so. That’ll get them kicked in the fracas. Plus, Vandal was pretty stupid and is no less aware of me talking to him now than he was at any point in the previous 11 years. So there.

Be logical with your grieving or confused loved ones. Be clear-headed. Be analytical. But be compassionate, help them work through things themselves. They’ll do the same for you when you get a little nuts from time to time.

It’s a new year and there’s still a whole lot of work to be done. What are you going to do? I plan to keep at it. Right after I take off the Japanese detox foot pads. These things don’t work at all. And now my feet are sticky.

Cross posted at Masala Skeptic.


Maria D'Souza grew up in different countries around the world, including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Kenya and it shows. She currently lives in the Bay Area and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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  1. GMTA: I was going to work but instead I took a nap. Great post to remind us that we're all human and susceptible to emotional decision making, especailly in times of crisis.

    Next year I'm going to finish my "how I became a skepchick" memoir and find a publisher (maybe not in that order), finish 2 knitting books that I already have started, spend 2 months in Lithuania, and work on paying more attention to my health. Here's to a happy and productive new year!

  2. My favorite Carl Sagan quote:

    "People are not stupid. They believe things for reasons. Let us not dismiss pseudoscience or even superstition with contempt."

  3. Very good points, and very well said. When the times come for my wonderful furbabies, I will stand on my head and cluck like a chicken if somebody swears it will keep them happy and healthy just a minute longer… and I think we often forget that we are just as much emotional beings as we are thinking ones. It's the ability to strike a balance between the two that makes us intelligent.

    I'm very sorry about Vandal, he was a gorgeous puppy (I have a husky-shepherd, myself).

  4. Excellant post – well said. I think we sometimes console ourselves by feeling smug and superior but it would be more productive to try and understand what drives belief in pseudo-science and combat the source with some compassion. I think education is the key. I agree with your point about getting people to practice critical thinking so it is automatic in time of emotion and stress. I think that would help a lot of people.

    And HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone.

    This has been a lovely place to come and learn new things and also be entertained by the smart women we are so lucky to have blogging away for us. Thanks.

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