Afternoon InquisitionAnti-ScienceReligion

AI: Whatcha doin’?

It’s in your shampoo. It’s in your drinks. It’s in your panties. It’s in your jewelry. It’s in your medicine. It’s in your mailbox. It’s at your front door. It’s at the mall. It’s in your drug store. It’s at the shopping center down the street. It’s at your grocery store. It’s in your magazines. It’s all over the internet. It’s inescapable. It’s woo. And, whether they’re calling a psychic or taking a homeopathic alternative to the flu shot, someone you love is buying into it right now.

I’ve got a few things on the docket to start saving the world. Things that don’t just include bitching about woo on Twitter and calling people assholes. But I can’t save the world from woo by myself… and even if I could, I’m way too lazy and disorganized to do it. I’m going to need help.

What are you doing? If you’re not doing anything, what could you or should you be doing and why aren’t you doing it?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.


Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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  1. The only thing I know of that I can do is confront the woo whenever I hear it mentioned, not always by saying that the person is foolish, but by getting them to look at the evidence.

    I know that my Mother is always calling me to tell me about some new thing that she heard about, and it’s usually woo. So, I am constantly looking for the evidence and emailing her the real information.

  2. So far, I have only been talking about it to budz and relatives. I have 5 kids so am trying to impress upon them anti-woo values… we shall see how successful I am. I also coach Odyssey of the mind at a couple of the schools in my area (elementary and middle) so have a rather captive audience when questions are asked. I tend to steer away from religion, seeing as it’s happening at public school, but just about no other subjects are off limits when the kids want answers.

  3. I am kicking people in the shins or ass whenever I see them buying or selling woo. When summer rolls around, I am also plan on turning the hose on neighbors who I know buy woo. I look at it like the beginning of a “Skeptical Fight Club”. I think it’s really going to make a difference.

  4. I confront it when it comes up -face on, no hesitation. If it comes in e-mail, I “reply all” and link to Snopes. Same thing on Facebook. I post a LOT of science and skepticism links and hope that people read them…
    In real life, I just ask everyone to think before they accept things blindly and I don’t just let things go. But I don’t seek them out, either. Enough nonsense comes into my life without having to look for it.

  5. I get up early on Saturday mornings, get dressed up, and knock on people’s doors. Have you heard the good news?”
    So far, if I don’t get cussed out at least 3 times a day, its considered slow. I’ve been maced 4 times, bitten by 7 dogs, punched in the face 5 times, kicked in the shin, crotch, stomach, and teeth. Punched 4 times, sprayed with 2 hoses and a lawn sprinkler, been chased by a car once, and threatened to be tased once.

    No, not really.

    Whenever I’m out, and I hear someone talking about it, I add my 2 cents. I’m pretty well known as a nerd. I even once did a small cold reading on a coworker to show how easy it was.

  6. I rarely encounter hardcore woo. Fortunately, most of my friends and family are pretty rational. I fight woo by being an example. I get a flu shot every year. I would get a swine flu shot if it were available. Today I got 2 shots at a routine physical (one for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis, and the first dose of Gardasil). I just don’t buy any homeopathy or go to a chiropractor. When I hear other people talk about chiropractors, I suggest that they try physical therapy for their pain, or at the very least, to not let the chiropractor touch their neck.

  7. I’m checking my Google Reader and skimming my various blogs. I don’t read most of them. I’m debating whether or not i should take a break for porn or maybe a nap before starting on my homework.

    I should be either working on my Algebra homework or studying for a German quiz.

    I think there’s also some other stuff that I should be doing but I can’t remember.

  8. I think I am with everyone else when I say that I basically just try to educate when I encounter it.

    Oh, and I watch the occasional Mythbusters. It’s easy and somehow more likely to convince if I just say “Umm, they did that on Mythbusters.”

    That and I have a nerd crush on Adam :-P

  9. Oh, and my poor Grandfather is really into Kevin Trudeau right now. I try to talk to him in a “Papa, you know . . .” voice, as sweet as I can but it pisses me off that this guy is allowed spout his nonsense to people who just don’t understand or don’t have to tools TO understand.

    Also, is it common knowledge that KT is a scientologist? I’ve googled it but it’s all speculation. I tried skimming through one of his books once and a lot of his “recommendations” are to read Dianetics.

  10. @Skept-artist: Awww, thanks! So far traffic’s been light but, every so often, I’ll see someone somewhere click through every comic on the site, and I can bask in the satisfaction of knowing that I’ve just robbed someone of an hour’s worth of productivity. :-)

  11. Right now I’m studying for a business finance test on Thursday. Tonight I’ll go home and make split pea soup with left over ham from last night. Then I will fix my wifi router so everyone can get wifi again. After that I will probably go for a run.

    The world should be woo free by the morning.

  12. Pretty much just getting myself all worked up into a frenzy of righteous indignation about all of the woo, after which I spout off to like-minded friends (one in particular) then….pretty much nothing…..

    I hate to admit it, but I don’t do much to fight the woo yet. My social skills are bordering on what one might call “confrontational hostility” when it comes to the stupid. I know the right approach is to educate and not ridicule but so far I have not been able to attain the necissary self-control and so I hold it in. (It burns!) I envy all of you who say you gently educate…I can’t and so I have decided that for now, it is better to say nothing than push them into more firmly believing in what I recognize will be a natural reaction to my attack.

    Having said that however, I am planning a sneak attack on my woo-friendly family and friends this holiday season by going after the kids. My wife and I are buying Galileoscopes for all of the nieces, nephews, godchildren, children of close friends, etc. ( and providing age-appropriate astronomy books to go with them. Anything I can do to stimulate the awe and wonder of the natural world that I received from my own parents and still feel every day. In my mind, this generation is a lost cause so I’m working on the next. Easier to indoctrinate than to deprogram.

  13. @Surly Nymph: Don’t get me started on this asshat. Many moons ago, I ordered KT’s “memory enhancement” tapes (cost over $100 at the time). I listened to them all and my results were nil. I was too naive to try and get my money back, and just chalked it up to the fact that “maybe I wasn’t meant to know these things.” Today I know that it’s all BS, but he is one of the slickest con-men on TV today. Every time I see him I get sick to my stomach.

    I suggest getting together all the articles about KT that show he’s a duplicitous boob and giving them to your grandfather. Not all at once, but maybe one every week until he comes around. He will, eventually.

    Good luck.

  14. Oh, and to answer the original question: I try to bring up woo-ish topics in my classes (I teach at a community college), such as links between vaccinations and autism, or alternative cures for mental disorders, etc. If I can get a few students to questions their previous beliefs abit, I claim success.

    One of my favorites is debunking Scientology’s views on psychology. Hours of family fun!

  15. I am at work polluting the US viewers and listeners (including NPR listeners and PBS viewers – Don’t even try to get away – even DVR people see a glimpse) with commercials.

    Today has turned out to be a good day, much better than expected.

    Looking forward to an evening with the inquisitor.

  16. I have made myself the local authority on all things woo-related, and when my friends are in need of a sounding board, or guidance, they turn to me.

    No, wait, thats just the whiskey talking.

    Mostly I just bitch and moan to friends, and then come up with lots of ‘Hey, did you know this interesting fact I read on this website/in this magazine/heard on this podcast. You should check it out’

    Oh, and I have encouraged my friends to argue with news-casters when they are being obviously moronic.

    You’re welcome.

  17. I’m relatively new to the whole skeptical movement, but I’ve always enjoyed learning actual science, and teaching little kids. Hence why I’ve volunteered at nature and science museums in the children’s area for the past 8 years.

    Also, a friend and I decided that one major problem with getting people to understand science is that scientists sometimes have trouble speaking in layman English. So, we’ve been writing a blog, Scientifica Phenomena, just sharing some of our favorite science/skepticism news stories.

    And then, in general, I will go around and… re-inform people when necessary. Creationism is the one that really gets to me, but I’ll correct them on alt med, alt energy, paranormal activity, UFO’s… pretty much any woo topic. And if I don’t know whether something’s true or not, I’ll look it us.

    And, I have “Well, actually” brothers. That helps too.

  18. I’m ruthless about Snopesing stupid emails, and when I was teaching I was on a two- or three-person campaign to keep unbelievably stupid crap (birthers, etc.) off the college’s faculty/staff mailing list.

    I do my best with my blog, too, which does reach a lot of people not in the “skeptic community” (whatever that means).

    And I’m really trying to beat back the tide of ridiculous CAM that swells on websites and forums for the chronically ill. I’m advocating the best I can for sick people not to give in to the woo. It’s a strong temptation.

    Besides that, I read and read and read. The more informed I am, the better I am at all of this.

  19. I drink in the fresh waters of rational thought, scientific research, and reasoned argument and piss on the heads of heads of the foolish and dangerous wooists.

  20. Today’s small stab in the epic “full moon = crazy kids” battle is to point out that the moon is full as fuck today and my students were the best they’ve been all year.

    Of course the response will probably be something like, “Well, of course if they’re usually crazy they’ll be really good during the full moon, duh.” :/

    Also, I try whenever I can to be informative and non-combative. Sometimes I just can’t help but be snarky, but I am working on this.

  21. Oh, and I teach kids. I try to teach them to think for themselves – often answering questions with questions and allowing them to discuss ideas.
    “Ms. Fox – are ghosts really real?”
    “What do you think?”

    …and the conversation is started – which is way better than me just saying “no” and potentially calling Mom/Dad/Abuelita a liar, and gets them to practice their already amazing reasoning and debate skills. I love starting these discussions, I just wish there was more time for them in the school day.

  22. I have a lot of clients that like to use woo, especially OTC homeopathic “remedies,” on their pets. It’s hard because some of my colleagues (in the same hospital) will recommend them, and since they have been vets for decades, and I have not, no one thinks I know what I’m talking about.
    So I work really hard not to alienate my clients (or colleagues) by knowing more about the woo in questions than the woo purveyors themselves. I explain the difference between homeopathy (like-cures-like and infinite dilution) and holistic medicine (the philosophy of treating the whole being), since many people consider these synonyms for “natural” medicine (whatever the F that is). Often clients are concerned about drug interactions, and I can tell them with a clear conscience that since all they are giving is water, there are no interactions. I usually add that since these remedies are not regulated by any agency or tested in any scientific way, I have no way of knowing if they are effective, so they should call and let me know how it works out for them.
    So far this has been a successful strategy. These clients often return and when I ask them about the homeopathic therapy, they freely tell me that it didn’t work. So I feel like I earned their trust, not alienated them (which would effectively turn them away to someone more sympathetic to woo), and encouraged them to come to me for guidance in finding effective (if “conventional”) treatment.

  23. At the moment, I am just blogging about the woo when I encounter it and explaining why it is woo. Hopefully, my little blog is reaching some people who might think twice before taking part in the woo.

  24. @Glow-Orb: My vet did recommend that I give my cats Bach flower Rescue Remedy before bringing the little freaks in. So I dutifully found the earthy-crunchy store that was most likely to sell it, declined free samples of nuts dug by hand out of the toddler-level bulk bin, and picked up a bottle.

    Methinks they may have had this backwards:
    ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: 5x dilution of Helianthemum nummularium HPUS, Clematis vitalba HPUS, Impatiens glandulifera HPUS, Prunus cerasifera MPUS, Ornithogalum umbellatum HPUS.
    INACTIVE INGREDIENTS: 27% alcohol.

    Some weeds, a plum, and a toxic plant. Awesome. Also, That shit is 27% alcohol! Apparently nothing calms Kitty down better than getting him a bit tipsy before you stick a thermometer up his bum.

  25. The only person close to me with any susceptibility to woo is my dad and even he’s a pretty skeptical kind of a guy. I should probably mention here that he has tinnitus from using power tools without ear protection (he’s not macho – just easily distracted and forgetful) and is nearly blind due to some condition that I can’t remember what’s called. The tinnitus causes significant discomfort, of course, and the inconvenience of having become nearly unable to see should be readily apparent.
    Not surprisingly, he’s ready to try a lot of things to try to ease these conditions including woo.
    To his credit, he’s pretty good at judging whether something does actually work once he tries it.
    When he tells me about something before trying it, I tell him what I know about it in the most neutral, matter-of-factly way I can.
    He tried acupuncture – this was immediately after I’d just read the article about how “real” acupuncture did no better than placebo acupuncture. After he’d tried it, he found that it had had no discernible effect and stopped doing that.
    When he tried homeopathy, I didn’t know anything about homeopathy, what it was or how it was supposed to work. When he explained it, I told him how dubious I thought it sounded. He tried it anyway and found that, like the acupincture, it had no effect. So he stopped doing that too.
    I guess he’s at heart an empiricist who insists on testing everything himself. If he finds something doesn’t do anything, he quickly abandons it.
    (He has found that plenty of exercise helps keep the eye condition in check – an idea supported by his doctor, I understand.)

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