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Links With Your Coffee - Monday


In the interest of fostering rational arguments I'm going to present a common fallacy with each day's links, today's fallacy is: Complex Question

  • Respectful Insolence: The woo-meister supreme returns, and he's brought his friends
    Here we go again.

    You know, now that it's 2009, I had hoped that one of the most irritating people alive would continue his blissful quiet. I'm referring, of course, to Deepak Chopra, that Indian physician who demonstrates that a medical training is no protection whatsoever against pseudoscientific and anti-scientific thinking. Indeed, Chopra goes far beyond that in that, not only has he become a leader of the so-called "complementary and alternative medicine" (CAM) movement, also sometimes called the "integrative medicine" (IM) movement that seeks to "integrate" treatments that range from the dubious to outright quackery with effective scientific medicine, but he has subjected numerous other field besides medicine to his "quantum" lunacy, including evolution. Indeed, so bad is Chopra's "science-y" quantumness, that I even coined a term for it: Choprawoo. I even came up with the only response ever needed to Choprawoo. He had been quite quiet of late, and that was a good thing.

  • Terror Experts Warn Next 9/11 Could Fall On Different Date | The Onion - America's Finest News Source
    WASHINGTON—In an alarming development with wide-reaching implications for America's safety, Department of Homeland Security head Michael Chertoff and CIA Director Michael Hayden issued a joint report Monday warning that the next 9/11 could in fact occur on a different date.

    What do the white guy who dressed up as Santa and killed his ex-wife and her family (and then committed suicide) and the Muslim guy who got thrown off a recent AirTran flight on suspicion of terrorism have in common?

  • SHAMblog: Can you really 'be like Mike'?
    The folly of making Michael Phelps into an all-purpose metaphor for human aspiration with relevance and meaning in Everymanville should be fairly obvious. But let's belabor the point. If you want to take home 11 Gold Medals* in swimming, it helps to be a freak of nature whose body was ideally designed for propelling itself in water. The many physical attributes that uniquely prepare Phelps to excel at swimming (and, in fact, make him somewhat ungainly on land) have been amply documented. So in a sense, holding Phelps up as an example of "the will to win" in swimming is not dissimilar to holding up, say, Shaquille O'Neal as an example of "the will to win" in hoops, where it helps to be over 7 feet tall and built like a bridge stanchion yet surprisingly agile (at least when Shaq was younger).

  • BBC NEWS | Americas | The 'misunderestimated' president?

  • YouTube - Instruction Manual for Life(tip to Zaphod)

  • National Endowment for the Arts Report Finds Fiction Reading on the Rise -
    The report, “Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy,” being released Monday, is based on data from “The Survey of Public Participation in the Arts” conducted by the United States Census Bureau in 2008. Among its chief findings is that for the first time since 1982, when the bureau began collecting such data, the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen.



regarding chopra -- i don't know anything about his particular take on alternative medicine, and i didn't really dig the one book of his that i did read. but i will say that your knee-jerk defense of Western medicine is misplaced. our system is broken. we have lots of knowledge and technology, and all of this must be used to the best of our ability for diagnosing and treating patients, but what alternative medicine (e.g. Chinese medicine, kinesiology) has right is that one must treat the entire individual (hence the word "integrative"). in the West we treat symptoms systematically, which has failed as a system for a variety of reasons, largely because of the perspective we have on mind, body, etc.

we can see the health status of people in our country -- it is a disaster. our system is broken, and "alternative medicine" deserves at least a little attention.

sort of in response to the thing on chopra, i am incensed at the sanjay gupta for surgeon general thing. (that with caroline kennedy gets to be senator cause she is a kennedy, talk about entitled). Obama puts all these impressive people in his cabinet and he chooses a media guy, with NO experience in management or public health, or well anything impressive except stardom to be surgeon general?

Where is this idea of picking the most competent people? Why are folks not really upset at this?
Why does medicine get a showman and public speaker person, compared to a great thinker and expert?

ps, in response to james comment,
I known't know anything really about chopra, but medicine does needs to look out of the box a bit. In many areas they do, but in some they are soley lacking.

There is a tendency to threat the disease according to some textbook, and not look at social, environmental etc causes of diseases. One issue with this is how health care is funded. Let us say that exercise programs have excellent data to show they help certain conditions, often the doctor trys to suggest that but without perhaps a program or trainer, or some support folks just don't do what they are told. Ideally the doctor should be able to send someone to a training program etc, but this will not be covered.

SImilar issue in psychiatry ( my area) we know certain types of psychotherapy are best for certain conditions, but often are not available, so docs sometimes prescribe meds as they are the only thing covered or available for patients.

Now with integrative approaches, the problem is we need data, research and not some hocus pocus approach to medicine. What drives me crazy is the I know it works attitude to alternative remedies. They need to have the same standard and data to support them as "western" medicine does. Do not kid yourself, there are more adverse reactions to herbal/ and alternative treatments than you think. I receive reports weekly from health canada about concerns regarding contamination in "chinese remedies" and herbal products, drug interactions with "herbal" products etc.

i am incensed at the sanjay gupta for surgeon general thing. (that with caroline kennedy gets to be senator cause she is a kennedy, talk about entitled)...Why are folks not really upset at this?

I for one was ticked about the Gupta thing. I kept wondering if there was something really wonderful about his in-depth management or sterling record--but I guess not.

As for Kennedy. Well, pick a name, she's one of a dozen. Greenwald has a mind-boggling list of nepotistic successors. It's a family tradition in the States these days.

I am not well informed enough about medicine, so-called 'alternative' or otherwise, to really comment, other than to say what matters is the data and what works, not a preconceived metaphysical notion about "the nature" of disease an sich. I don't think speculative claims about "treating symptoms" vs "treating the whole person" are very helpful, independently of that.

There is no such thing as "Western" medicine. There is medicine, which is science-based, and pretentious treatments that either haven't been evidenced to work, or have been evidenced not to work -- a.k.a. "alternative" "medicine" (yeah, double quotes). It is no alternative and it is no medicine.

The problem with medicine is that of industry corruption, not of the scientific method. That doesn't mean ANYTHING about the truthfulness of "alternative" methods. It's an obvious fallacy, come on. No "alternative" method, especially the ones New Age kooks like Chopra are so fond of, has been proven to work beyond placebo. And that guy is just plain dishonest.

I think Orac mentions it, or someone else, but I've always thought that it's kind of ironic that that scam-artist idiot (Chopra) always mentions "quantum" this and "quantum" that, all of it nonsense, to confuse people, when actually quantum mechanics is the MOST ACCURATE scientific theory there is. Its predictions are astoundingly close to perfection, and yet these quantum jokers keep using its words ("entanglement" is another one) to give themselves an air of mystery and vagueness. I'm sure NO ONE understands what those people really mean, because it doesn't mean anything. But, they pretend not to look stupid, I guess.

Another word all like to use is "energy". Energy is one of the most well understood and studied subjects of science. It is not mysterious at all. Seriously, sometimes I think people just should crack open a science book even if they have to stop working for a month or so.

How effective is a placebo?

I don't think the complex question link is working...

re: michael phelps- i see the point about him being "built" to swim like a motherfucker (you think that shit evolved by accident? :)jk) but i saw him interviewed by colbert. now, i don't know anything about the guy, other than his medals and what i saw on that interview, and what i know about the training required to win olymic gold in this cynical, corrupt age of human machinery. but for my money, the kid is borderline retarded- perhaps even really retarded. he could barely put 2 sentances together in that interview. and i'm against the abuse of the retarded in principle- especially someone like mr. phelps, who showed phenomenal dedication and focus despite his tragic handicap.

can't we just be happy for the guy? without snarking about how the universe happened to poot out a perfect swimming machine?

In response to the first part of Andyo's post I think it is incorrect to say there is no such thing as "'Western' medicine". There is and it is called biomedicine. It is the modern, scientific based medicine used in the "West". "Traditional" medicine or ethnomedicine is not something to be dismissed just because it has not gone through the rigors of scientific testing. It has gone through the rigors of time. These systems of traditional medicines have sustained people for centuries. I'm not suggesting all ethnomedicine or alternative medicines are correct. But to ignore and readily dismiss them is ignorant and rash. It should be the goal of scientists and other researchers to understand what parts of ethnomedicine and traditional systems work.

James m was right in pointing out that alternative medicine incorporates the entire individual. There is a need for our (western) approach to treatment to become more holistic.

As well I have had trouble the with the fallacy link.

I'm not suggesting all ethnomedicine or alternative medicines are correct. But to ignore and readily dismiss them is ignorant and rash. It should be the goal of scientists and other researchers to understand what parts of ethnomedicine and traditional systems work.

"The rigors of time", or anecdotal report, is not evidence. Doctors "bled" patients for millennia, from Ancient Greece to the 19th Century. That the practice lasted so long does not prove that it actually worked, nor does it render the least bit plausible the primitive view of the "humors," to which it was tied, or Galenian view of circulation that it was based on.

I don't think the issue is one of dismissal, but of applying a consistent standard for what counts as success. It may be that certain herbal therapies or whatever may help with such and such symptoms or diseases. But if they do, then that is an empirical claim that can be rigorously tested under controlled conditions, and anecdotal evidence--"the rigors of time"--does not count.

"Western" Medicine is widely used in the East, and is even being developed in the East. "Alternative" medicine is also used in the West. So the statement "[Western Medicine] is the modern, scientific based medicine used in the 'West'" is simply not accurate.

Things that pass the "rigors of time" are not necessarily true. For instance, my father uses the "rigors of time" argument to prove the existence of a xtian god. This would be considered the "appeal to tradition" fallacy.

What Aaron said. I'll add that appeal to tradition seems to me one of the worst "appeal" fallacies. At least "appeal to authority" is right many times -- which still doesn't make it by itself valid -- depending on which "authority" you consult (and how many "authorities" on the same subject you consult).

"Traditional" medicine or ethnomedicine is not something to be dismissed just because it has not gone through the rigors of scientific testing.

Of course it's not to be dismissed out of hand (if it's not too ridiculous, I mean my grandma believed that rubbing an egg off a baby's skin could reveal bad energies). But, it is to be put through the rigors of scientific testing. Many modern medicines come from "natural" origins, aspirin being one of them, and of course, sweet sweet Vicodin (hydrocodone).

What followed, appeal to authority, is simply a misguided fallacy as we've argued. About so-called "integrative" approaches, why don't "integrative" people ever seem to be clear as to what they're proposing? Where is the research? Why do they use the word "integrative" in exactly the same way that other New Age kooks use "quantum", "entanglement" and "energy", among others? That is highly suspicious.

Another thing that you'll notice is that a bullshit artist will take nonsense and try to make it sound complex enough that you'll not understand -- it's nonsense after all -- but won't admit it so you don't feel stupid (my example with Chopra above).

By huge contrast good educators will do the exact opposite. They will take very real and/or really complex matters and try to simplify them and be very clear so as many people as possible can understand it, without compromising the fundamentals of the subject. Brian Greene is my best example. If you've read his books, he talks about very complex things, but every paragraph is so clear, he's one of my favorite science writers. His books are better at explaining than even Hawking's (probably the most popular on the subject). And, to respond to the anti-string theory critics, he is also very specific about what exactly is speculative in what he writes. Another good one is Richard Dawkins. Whatever you think of him, (especially after The God Delusion), you can't deny that from his books on evolution.

What followed, appeal to authority,[...]

I meant, of course "What followed [from your post], appeal to tradition,..."

"fallacy with each days links" should read "fallacy with each day's links"

Indeed it should, I noticed it on Saturday and corrected it, but forgot to fix the snippet and the rest is history. Thanks for pointing it out.

Bush's malapropisms are as nothing compared to the ocean of blood he leaves in his wake. Yet, as I mention here, there is some possibility that good will come of it all, if only we can remember:

Bush and his paid media deserve nothing less than our enduring contempt. If, 20 or 30 years from now, as Bush’s body joins his mind in decay, the people of this nation still recall his crimes in both horror and resolution — if the determined cry of “never again” is still widely heard — then it will be safe to claim that some greatness indeed did come of Bush and his foul legacy.


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