Afternoon Inquisition

AI: ‘Woo’ Pushers

“I’ve felt like a cold has been trying to get a hold of me for weeks,” I complained to my mother, stupidly…

“Have you been taking that Ki I sent to you?” she asked.

“No” I replied, casting a glance to the dusty, unopened box of Ki Immune Defence & Vitality Formula tablets on my side table… and then the cupboard with at least two other unopened boxes of the crap.

“Well, if you took the Ki you wouldn’t feel so rundown all the time…”

And so began our age-old stalemate argument…

What pseudoscience/paranormal crap do your friends and family try to push on to you?

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

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  1. Well, my brother believes sushi is effective against just about any ailment imaginable. I’m a bit skeptical of these claims but gladly eat sushi anyway (regardless of whether I’m sick or healthy) for purely non-medicinal purposes.

    If I were still a kid and living with my dad, he’d probably be trying to cure my flu by torturing my feet with reflexology. I remember he got into that when I was about 10. Even then, I thought it sounded like a complete load of rubbish. I just couldn’t make myself believe that squeezing someone’s feet could conceivably have any curative effect on any ailment anywhere else in the body. It just sounded too far-fetched.

  2. My mom has a tin of this homeopathic resin from a company called St. Louis Pharmicals (what the shit is a pharmical?), and said she’d used it for infections and splinters. I had an infected ear and decided to try it like the good wittle skeptic I am.

    I asked her how it works, and she said “magic” in all earnestness. I then told her that the skin is a self-healing organ that rejects sharp detritus like splinters and can easily fix small infections. She’s not a true believer, and was thusly convinced it was hokum. And, surprise, the resin didn’t work.

  3. Well, after many months of reading this blog, I HAD to register to respond to this AI.

    I’ve been recently diagonosed with RLS, and put on the normal perscription medicine regime. After discovering that Mirapex and I don’t get along, the doctor switched my meds, and things are working out great.

    But that’s not the pseudoscience crap that I’m writing about. What happened is that, during one of my weekly knitting meetings, I mentioned the RLS and the issues I was having with Mirapex (during a chat with some of my close friends who had asked me how it was going). That is when somebody in the group told me that I should try acupuncture, but, since I have always been open about my skepticism and did accidentally give her that “sketpical” look, she then told me about a cheaper alternative that I “had to try.” It was putting a bar of Ivory soap at the bottom of the bed, and it would cure all of my RLS symptoms. She also mentioned enzymes, but I’ll admit I can’t remember which ones (you can see I took it seriously. ).

    FYI — no I didn’t try the soap, even though she asked me about it a couple weeks later, and tried yet again to convince me that I should try it.

  4. Prayer. I have an uncle that at essentially every family gathering will follow someone’s description of a challenging situation or illness with an injunction to pray. Now as a meditative or contemplative experience I suspect it may possess genuine value in ameliorating stress (though deep breathing in dark rooms seems to have a similar empirical effect,) but when it comes to accelerating or decelerating the course of diseases, the evidence is in and the answer is no.

  5. I’m lucky that my family doesn’t consume much woo and never push it on anyone else. My personality is abrasive enough that friends/acquaintances don’t do it more than once.

  6. There are my idiot relatives:

    Sister’ EX: Is sure we aren’t being told everything about vaccines.

    Niece: Doesn’t trust vaccines, thinks birth control is ‘unnatural’ (age 24; 4 kids).

    Sister: anti-vax; raw milk for healing; had all her amalgam fillings removed; tells me my hereditary pain is the result of ‘toxins’; detoxes; Gerson Protocol… sure there’s much more

  7. I’ve had the misfortune as to be from a a family that is both deeply conservative and way into newage crap. As such, they have pressed on me creationism, healing prayers, healing crystals, acupuncture, alternative medicine, and just about every other form of bullshit out there.

    Recently they largely given up on pushing this crap on me, though they have brought up chiropractics and continue to push their favorite cure-all, vitamin c.

  8. Vitamins, both of my parents take like 60 different vitamin and herb pills every day. I tried it once about 10 years ago. I had to stop my car on the way to work so I could throw them up. When I try to talk to them about how their pills aren’t tested and aren’t regulated they always come back with the Big Pharma argument. Also that medicens testing is all paid for by the pharmaceutical companies and can’t be trusted.

    My uncle thinks that pot is the cure for every disease known to man. Cancer – pot, gout – pot, insanity – pot, gullibility – pot, alien abduction – pot.

    My dad thinks that whisky will cure a cold or the flu.

    They have been going to church for a couple of years now after having not gone for a couple of decades. It seems to me that recently their critical thinking abilites have been deteriorating. I blame the church attendance. They are practicing belief in unbelievable every week. It seems that it is getting easier to believe the unbelievable.

  9. Yes, this hits close to home. My knucklehead sister pushes Nopalea, even has a big ad sticker on her car. She used to push Maxgxl, even sent “free” samples, then pestered us to pay for them.

  10. Vitamins, garlic supplements, ginko tea, zinc. My father takes all of these and every time I complain about being tired, he asks me if I’ve taken them.

    My uncle thinks moonshine will fix anything. He still makes it according to my grandfathers recipe and he gives me a jar every year. I keep it in the fridge because I enjoy the looks on peoples faces when they take it out and say “What is this?” and I tell them it’s moonshine. It will temporarily get rid sore throat pain, only because it burns your esophagus and stomach so much that you don’t remember that your throat was sore.

    Lots of people tell me that they will pray for me or my sick relatives. I used to think “That’s really nice, that that person cares enough to keep me in their thoughts” and even though I didn’t pray, I thought it was a nice gesture when other people would tell me that and I never said anything negative about it.

    But now I have a friend who has “come to Jesus” after years of not attending or giving a crap about church. She tells me that she prays that I will know God’s love. She tells me that she prays so that I will be truly happy because I can’t be truly happy without knowing the love of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter if I tell her that I really am happy, she insists that I am not.

  11. What pseudoscience/ crap does my family continually try to push on me??

    Hugging. Seriously, they are FANATICS about it, and it seems that no amount of rational discourse can disuade them!

  12. Everyone that I’ve ever seriously dated has thought that there was something funny is going on with synchronicity — “Frequently, when I’m thinking about someone that I haven’t talked to in a long time, they phone me” and the like.

    No amount of discussion of statistics, the “law of truly large numbers“, “Littlewood’s law“, quotes from Isaac Asimov or Francis Bacon on superstition, etc. is able to dislodge them.

  13. There’s a woman I know who likes to treat herself to an expensive cosmetics product every now and again.

    W: Look, it’s arrived!
    W: *crows like an excited 12 year old*
    Me: *feigns rapt interest*
    Me: What have you got there then?
    W: It’s a from <cosmetics brand! It's good shit!
    Me: Awesome! What's so good about this one?
    W: *quickly scans the label*
    W: It has electrolytes!
    Me: Cool! So… what do they do again?
    W: I don't know, but they're good shit!

    It's the most adorable conversation ever. Three times a year, without fail.

    Otherwise, I'm fairly woo free. People only present me with woo these days in a conscious attempt to press my buttons.

  14. I keep getting harrassed about DeTox diets and whatever my friend has recently heard from her nutritionist.
    I keep telling her I don’t need a DeTox diet and neither does she; the liver does a perfectly adequate job.
    As for the nutritionist, they may be very well educated but the fact remains that Nutritionist is not a protected term. I could offer her an apple and call myself a nutrionist. (probably do her as much good as the nutrtionist does)

  15. I have friends and family that ask me to pray for them sometimes. I just respond with, “Yes, I’ll definitely be thinking of you.” Or sometimes they say they’re praying for me, to which I reply, “Thanks.”

    But then, I’m not out of the closet with any of them yet, so that might explain the tendency… :-P

  16. My family knows better than to throw bait in my direction and most of my friends know they’ll at least get a discussion if they offer up some woo.

  17. My biggest problem is that nobody believes ME when I tell them things!! But I guess I should get used to that, since I’m just going to keep being right and they’ll keep being wrong.

    Luckily, my family members either aren’t into peddling or they know better than to peddle that crap to me. We don’t even get Jesus-bombed anymore. Every so often a friend or family member will repeat something she heard from Oprah and I will politely correct her and remind her that she should be checking with a medical professional about medical matters -not a television personality.

  18. My mother recently gave me a magnetic bracelet to help relieve the pain of my chronic pain disorder. She also wears one for her arthritis as well as taking whatever vitamin and herbal remedies she sees at the chemist.

  19. My girlfriend’s mother has a host of chronic undiagnosed or previously misdiagnosed illnesses for which she uses homeopathy and naturopathy. She kind of lumps it all into that old “non-Western” medicine category that woo-woos like to talk about. We have a lot of unopened boxes of that shit in our house (really, we should throw it away, but my girlfriend thinks that’s rude).

  20. I have an aunt who has become a true believer in one of the brands of woo-woo health supplements out there. She sends letters with discount offers and her personal testimonials about them to every one in the family. And apparently she’s begun to tune out the rest of life in favor of being an advocate for this stuff; travels across country for conventions just for this one brand and such. The rest of the family is getting pretty disgusted with it.

    I’ve tuned it out to the extent that I can’t even remember which brand it is.

  21. My mom and chiropractors. She tries to get me to see one whenever I mention my back hurting (which, considering my job, is pretty often). No matter how much evidence I throw her way, she blatantly ignores it saying “My friends say it works! So I don’t care what those doctors say!”

    She also does that with a lot of nonscientific stuff – not necessarily woo, but stuff like urban legends and old wives’ tales. She’ll believe them no matter how many studies, articles, snopes links and other forms of debunking I show her. Yeah, attempting to debate my mother is a bit like debating a brick wall. A condescending brick wall.

  22. I live in Canada and we’ve got a heavily marketed sugar pill called Cold-FX. My mom swears by it and tries to buy it for me when I’ve got a cold.

    Apparently “each capsule of COLD-fX is certified to contain 200 mg of CVT-E002â„¢, a proprietary ChemBioPrint®” says the website.

    If you fish for it on the site you’ll find ChemBioPrint® is polysaccharide derived from North American ginseng.

    Oh, also, ChemBioPrint® stands for “Chemical Biological FingerPrinting, proprietary standardization technology used to ensure the quality of all ChemBioPrint products. In the case of COLD-fX, Chemical FingerPrinting identifies a “print” of the active chemical components that strengthen the immune system,” says the website.

  23. My girlfriend has recently drunk the new-age find-your-inner-child workshop kool-aid big time.
    She drags me to meetings and it’s like being taken to a religious group.

    She also believes in a homeopathic painkiller, although to be fair, the dilution is so low that there could well be an effective dose — real medicine masquerading as homeopathic?

    Also, Malendras, my understanding is that chiropractors *are* good for back problems. The woo aspect comes in when they claim to be able to treat other things. See the Wikipedia article.

  24. Our moms push pretty much everything that they can think of that a family member or friend has used or that they have seen on tv. This past weekend with the family my husband was getting over a cold and had a minor back injury. Between his mom and mine the following were suggested: mucinex, these French cough drops that really work, sudafed, ibuprofen, aleve, vicodin, chiropractor, massage, heating pad, are you sure it isn’t a kidney problem?, going to the doctor, and that thing that her physical therapist friend did with my leg when I hurt my back when I was 15. Doesn’t matter that my husband has had colds and back problems before and knows the course they will take and that it isn’t that big of a deal to wait it out until it’s better. They are moms and they cannot rest until they have fixed something! and made themselves feel needed.

    I really don’t think they have much understanding of what/how/why any of it does / doesn’t work. The woo bits just increase their arsenal of remedies to suggest so that they don’t have to give up and become failures as mothers quite so soon.

  25. Just this week, my mother was trying to tell me that I should go to a massage therapist for the headaches and neck pain I’ve had for over a month now. She’s also big into homeopathy, herbal supplements, “all natural” everything, and body work. And if I try to talk to her about it, or even ask her to read a book about why the stuff is bunk, she starts having panic attacks. Apparently “science doesn’t know everything” therefore homeopathy, etc. works. Ugh.

    Oh, and my da took me to a chiropractor as a kid. Nothing like nearly having your pelvis broken in the name of curing your depression to make you realize what a crock alternative “medicine” is.

  26. @elles
    My parents too! (except communism) Especially my father since he teaches martial arts, and some of it has woo parts.

    Oh, and vitamins. They take vitamins pill, even though I doubt it does them any good. They told me that old people don’t absorb nutrients as well or something. I don’t remember. But I ask myself how they got their information.

  27. Well… They’re not exactly “pushing it on” but they believe in it and would love for me to believe…

    My dad: “The Secret” yeah seriously
    My mom: some sort of flower homeopathy her psychologist gives her
    My grandma: miracles

    They don’t actually say much (probably cause im not a declared skeptic and i am “Catholic”) but it still bugs me…

  28. Over the years, more and more the last year and a half, my husband has become more and more woo. UFOs and aliens, especially, but he believes pretty much anything he hears on Coast to Coast if the speaker is slick enough, and he never, ever fact-checks a thing. He forms beliefs based on his emotions, not on facts. And if I tell him I need evidence to believe claims, he jumps down my throat and calls me “dismissive” and “narrow-minded.”

    It isn’t even the woo that bothers me as much as the disrespect. I’m willing to agree to disagree, but I can’t pretend I agree with him when I don’t.

    I feel like I have to keep quiet because I don’t feel free to be myself with him anymore. And heck, he probably feels the same about me.

    Needless to say, I’m getting less and less thrilled with my marriage. And that’s sad because we’ve been married for a number of years.

  29. Mom: Qi Gong, “Dr.” Andrew Weil, echinacia, ear candling, iridology.

    Dad: Colloidal silver, herbalism in general, and the healing power of prayer.

    Luckily I’ve become kind of a Jiminy Cricket bullshit detector for my siblings, so they come to me first when mom or dad pushes the woo-woo.

  30. My asinine ex-girlfriend and all her idiot “manifest 2013” friends tried to get me to take something called mono atomic gold. It was supposed to help me “evolve” by changing the structure of my DNA to over 6000 strands. Also, I was supposed to be able to see Pleiadian aliens from the future who would help me evolve spiritually. I’m very happy with my DNA the way it is and have no desire to communicate with aliens from the future or any other time. She and her whole gaggle of bliss-ninnys can’t stop talking about the 2012 doomsday prophesies either. Even when I showed her a video of a Mayan elder saying that all her nuage hippy friends were full of shit, she called me a toxic person and claimed that it doesn’t matter if her beliefs are true; all that matters is that they inspire people to manifest world peace. The sex just wasn’t worth listening to all that drivel. Then she got involved in the Zeitgeist movement and spent all her time on the Venus Project forum IMing idiots who want to tear down society and rebuild it so that it’s run entirely by computers & AI. I had to cut and run before the space aliens came to eat my brain! Are there any normal, scientifically literate agnostic secular humanist girls out there who would like to date me?

  31. @SJBG: Y’know prayer, being essentially just one-way communication out into… well, wherever, should be easy to automate. You could probably do it in Automator if you have a Mac!
    Just create a workflow that, once a day at a specified time opens and plays back an audio file with your prayer and that should be about it. I think I can guarantee that it’ll work just as good as conventional, analog prayer but it’ll be much more effecient since once you’ve set up the workflow you won’t have to worry about it any more!

  32. My cousin also thinks her chiropractor is the greatest doctor on the planet. I pulled a muscle in my back (we will leave out the overly aggressive stupidity for another AI). She still has yet to explain to me how a chiropractor can heal muscle tissue by aligning my spine.

  33. @Akusai: Luckily I’ve become kind of a Jiminy Cricket bullshit detector for my siblings, so they come to me first when mom or dad pushes the woo-woo.

    That’s great. My sister tends to think more like my mother. Apparently, since the family dog “got better” after getting acupuncture and “how could that happen if it wasn’t real since there’s no way to have a placebo effect in animals,” acupuncture works. *sigh*

  34. My sister’s Ex Boyfreind was trying to push the expanding earth theory on my father. Thankfully my husband and I were there to counter with rationality.

  35. My parents tend to be in a few bits of a woo, but they aren’t too bad about pushing it on others. My mom has tried to get me to take fish oil tablets, which, honestly sound like they could be relatively effective as dietary supplements if you don’t eat much fish (at least compared to some of the dietary supplement crap). Her and my dad both have those copper bracelets for the magnet therapy or whatever. They are frugal about their woo crap, though, as they didn’t buy the bracelets until my mom found a 2-for-$5 pack of them, while they get the fish oil tablets from Wal-Mart for $5 for a month’s supply.

    So I haven’t really tried arguing with them over it unless they suggest I try it, at which point I point out that copper isn’t ferromagnetic, and isn’t going to interact with any magnetic field the body generates, or that the reason fish oil tablets have a label on them that more resembles grape jelly rather than Aspirin is because they can’t hold up to an actual exploration of what they do by the FDA.

    I also once had a girlfriend who was…an interesting mesh of skepticism and woo. I don’t think she took any of it seriously. She idolized L. Ron Hubbard, but despised Scientology. Specifically, she wanted to get rich by creating a stupid sounding religion, but thought she could make something that hung together a lot better than Scientology.

    She was also into Tarot Cards and Rune Reading, but admitted she didn’t believe in them, and just found it to be a fun card trick and an excuse to pick through polished rock bins at flea markets for nice looking ones to make into runes.

    Oh, and pot, she loved pot, and wanted to learn how to spot psychoactive mushrooms so she could try them.

    So yeah. Oddly, none of that had anything to do with why we broke up in the end.

  36. @A. Noyd: I injured my back many years ago and found out that 10 visits to a massage therapist were covered by my insurance. I decided to give it a try and loved every second of every massage. I don’t recall any woo or energy field nonsense being discussed, but I do recall wishing I could get a massage every week for the rest of my life.

  37. Oh jeez, where to begin….

    My sister takes her cat to a homeopathic vet. Maybe that’s why the cat is in such a foul mood all the time. She (my sister, not the cat) and my mother also lean a little into the new-age crystal vibration psychic fair thing from time to time.

    My parents were strong proponents of chiropractic when I was younger, but not the full blown chiro-wacky story as far as I know, just the back pain relief thing.

    My mother in law forwards us a lot of emails that tell us how big corporations, governments and Big Pharma are out to kill us all for the sake of a buck. Arsenic in vegetables, cocaine in coffee, the usual. My bride has recently introduced her to Too early to draw any conclusions yet.

    I have an uncle who swears by his magnetic copper bracelet thingy, an aunt who believes that aliens control the US government, a sister in law who sees a naturopath and goes on ghost hunts.

    So far, other than trying to shoot-down the fear mongering emails and provide links to real information, Dr. Wife and I have chosen to not to engage any of this head-on. It’s too close to home for us, and the family relationships are too important, so we bite our tongues and keep quiet.

    Like so many others have already posted;
    Woo-woo to the left of us,
    Woo-woo to the right of us,
    Woo-woo in front of us,
    Volley’d and thunder’d.

    @Rei Malebario: Someone has already beaten you to the punch with this idea of automated prayer, and is making a buck with it:

  38. @James Fox: Yeah, I love massages, but considering this is a head/neck problem (or presents that way) I don’t want some woo-addled massage therapist messing around there, especially when I don’t know what’s causing it. Really, it would be nice if skeptics did more reclaiming of things like massage, martial arts, yoga, meditation, etc.–things that feel good or are useful just for their own sakes.

  39. My massage therapist has some wooish elements, but she also spends part of your appointment showing you stretching and strengthening exercises to help with any specific problem areas. The only thing I really have a problem with is cranio-sacral work. That’s just nuts.

  40. I have an eccentric aunt who used to ask me to send her Marks and Spencer woolen tights and Badedas, which I was happy to do for her since she lives in the USA and doesn’t travel much. She’s very much Conservative, racist, Obama hating – but family. Oi vey. Back in May she sent me a request for Procydin saying her coworker claimed it cured her Dad’s cancer. I’d never heard of it and did some research.

    Turns out to be another anthocyanin based antioxident stuff. I didn’t find many reports of its cancer curing prowess, but tons of its anti-aging claims; which suits me Aunt’s vanity better. I replied with some links, told her it’s untested as a cancer treatment and: did she want to tell me something…did she have cancer? Is she well? Should I worry???

    She never replied back and I’ve not heard from her since. I think she took the hump that I didn’t just do as she asked and asked questions instead. She has decided to give me the silent treatment. Upside; no more junk Republican, pro-America, go troops forwarded on emails! Woohoo!

  41. My Mum doesn’t believe in mood disorders, so she like to tell me that I’ll be able to get off my medication someday if I can just accept god and jesus and pray and “think positive.” Yep, talking to imaginary friends is definitely more effective than medicine.

  42. My mother-in-law is a Jehova’s Witness. I used to get some of that crap pushed on me, but she gave up when I started asking too many questions. She’s big on vitamin pills, fish oil supplements, and is loath to trust doctors, though she does get dragged there by my father-in-law eventually.

    My mum, whilst she realises that homeopathy is a load of bollocks, is a big fan of alternative “medicine”. She’s even had reiki for a bad back in the past. Mind you, I did once have her convinced that a recent edition of the Oxford English Dictionary had a spelling mistake in the definition of gullible. And she has a degree… a real one.

    My dad, who is in a wheelchair with very limited mobility thanks to a serious accident 15 years ago, had some sort of woo woo pedlar try and flog something to him once. He hit him with a stick. I like my Dad.

  43. I’ve gotten into a number of “discussions” with family about various woo, but usually lose to the “I know my own body” argument.

    The argument I don’t lose (generally) is the “but what if there are positive effects to (insert woo) that we just don’t know how to measure yet?”

    A: “If you are claiming that it does something, then we have two data points. We can measure, number crunch, and make an intelligent interpretation. No special pleading for you!”

    Then comes the awkward silence.

  44. One guy can’t stop about how H1N1 vaccines are a government conspiracy. Some other shit about 2012. Homeopathy, sometimes.

    The common line of argument is usually : you don’t know that it can’t be true, so it probably is.


  45. Ah, my first comment here.
    Anyway, just had to get this off my mind.

    The woo that I’m exposed to isn’t really pushed on me. However, I’m often left with no choice, as the majority appearently rules in my family’s house.
    Appearently, my family buys into programs like “Ghost Hunters”, “A Haunting”, “Ghost Adventures”, “Paranormal State” and the like (including the film “A Haunting in Conneticuit”).
    With all this woo about, I feel like it is pushed on me. Even the fictional program “Ghost Whisperer” gets to me (I hate the depiction of the intellectual guy in the series).
    And I find it disturbing as to how much this sort of woo belief is spreading.
    Whom can we turn to in such times?

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