Atheism · Creationism · Evolution · Religion · Science · Skepticism

The “Don’t Be A Dick” Heard Round the World

I feel chastised.

Undoubtedly the most controversial, most thought-provoking talk at TAM 8 was Phil Plait‘s “Don’t be a dick” talk, in which he decried what he sees as the rise of incivility in the skeptical blogosphere.

He wrote it down ahead of time so as not to ad lib and accidentally say something he didn’t mean, and since I have a recording of it, I should really quote him (slightly cleaned up) and not paraphrase, so as not to distort his meaning. I apologize in advance for the length of both the quotations and my response. To quote Blaise Pascal, I lack the time to make it shorter.

If you were at TAM, you may want to skip directly to the arguments. If you don’t want to read or even skim through those, you can skip ahead to the discussion. If that’s still too long for you, the conclusion is (spoiler alert!) Phil’s mostly right, partly wrong.

Instead of relying on the merits of the arguments, which is what critical thinking and evidence-based reasoning is about, it seems that vitriol and venom are on the rise.

Let me ask you a question: how many of you here today used to believe in something — used to, past tense — whether it was flying saucers, psychic powers, religion, anything like that? You can raise your hand if you want to. [lots of hands go up] Not everyone is born a skeptic. A lot of you raised your hand. I’d even say most of you, from what I can tell.

Now let me ask you a second question: how many of you no longer believe in those things, and you became a skeptic, because somebody got in your face, screaming, and called you an idiot, brain-damaged, and a retard? [Very few hands go up]

Skepticism is hard. Skepticism is in many ways a self-annihilating message. Okay, how do you convince someone they’re not thinking clearly, when they’re not thinking clearly?

And it’s worse, because […] as most of us already know, our brain is not wired for skeptical thinking. It’s wired for faith. And so, what we’re trying to say to people is difficult for them.

Studies have shown that people who lose their faith tend to replace it with something else, with a different type of belief. If you start out religious and lose your faith in God, you’ll replace that with something else, some other non-evidence-based reasoning. […]

It gets worse. Studies have actually shown that when you debunk a myth or misconception, you actually wind up reinforcing it later. So when somebody comes in and says, I think that, say, the full moon on the horizon is because of the atmospheric effects acting like a lens; and you say no, it’s an illusion, it’s because of this and this and this, and a year later you say, what causes the moon illusion?, they’ll say, “you know, I heard it was an atmospheric effect”. And so, debunking reinforces the things we’re trying to debunk. It’s irritating, actually, and it puts a damper on trying to show people why they’re wrong.

It just keeps getting worse: the message we’re trying to convey is hard all by its lonesome. And it’s worse when we’re trying to peddle(?) this idea — when you think about it, what we’re actually saying — of no magic, no afterlife, no higher authoritative father figure, no security, and no happy ever after, okay? This is a tough sell. And in many cases, people will prefer magic over science, and they will prefer fantasy over reality. Santa Claus is more fun than getting presents from your parents, right? And the tooth fairy is more exciting than knowing that it’s just your parents putting money under your pillow. (I’m sorry, spoiler alert, there.)

[…] The generic person out there, somebody not in our group, they tend to hear a message that science is hard and that it’s boring. And worse, skeptics and scientists, we tend to be thought of as being stuffy and stilted, antisocial, if not evil and downright sociopathic. Atheists eat babies, don’t you know? So it’s a tough sell.

Also, how do believers think of themselves? Many times, their self-identity is wrapped up in their belief. One of the most important things people use to define themselves is their religion or their belief. They might say, “I’m a UFO person” or whatever, doesn’t matter what the belief is.

Not only that, our society stresses faith. How many movies have as their final message something about faith? How many books, how many TV shows? The doubt in the movie is downplayed. The person who is doubting is shown as ineffectual, even bad. And the belief is the highest ideal. […]

So all of this is stacked against us. And this is a lot of stuff stacked against us. Why in the hell would you want to make it harder to deliver that message?

What I see [in the skeptical movement] is that hubris is running rampant. And that egos are just out of check, and sometimes logic in those situations falls by the wayside.
[…]

How many of you play chess? I’m guessing a lot of you do. How often do you sacrifice a piece for the greater goal? You can have your queen at the end of the game when your opponent checkmates you, but you’ve lost. You’ve lost the game. It doesn’t help. Another analogy: a pedestrian has the right of way while crossing a street. And certainly if you walk off a sidewalk when a car is coming, you’re technically in the right. You’re also roadkill.

When you’re dealing with someone who disagrees with you on some matter, what is your goal? What is your goal? What are you trying to accomplish? Insulting them, yelling at them, calling them brain-damaged, or morons, or baby-rapers may make you feel good. (That’s been used, by the way.) It may make you feel good. It may help you vent, it may help you release frustration, it may rally the troops, it may even foment people to help you and to take action, and let’s be honest, it may allow you to feel smug and superior, at least in that moment.

But is your goal to score a cheap point, or is your goal to win the damn game?

It’s not terribly controversial to say that when someone is being attacked and insulted, they tend to get defensive. They’re not in the best position to be rational or self-introspective. It’s going to be very difficult to change their mind when you’re doing that.

In times of war, we need warriors. But this isn’t a war. You might try to say it is, but it’s not a war. We aren’t trying to kill an enemy. We’re trying to persuade other humans. And at times like that, we don’t need warriors, what we need are diplomats.

So after all this, I think I can sum up my points like this: first, always ask yourself what your goal is. […] Is this argument necessary? What is your goal? What are you trying to accomplish? Before you talk, before you leave a comment, before you engage a pseudoscientist, before you raise your hand, before you sign that email, ask yourself: is this going to help? Is this going to allow me to achieve my goal? And you also need to ask yourself: will this impede me from achieving my goal? Is this just to make me feel better, or am I trying to change the world?

And second, and not to put too fine a point on it, don’t be a dick.

[…] But seriously, don’t. Don’t be a dick. All being a dick does is score cheap points. It does not win the hearts and minds of people everywhere, and honestly, winning those hearts and minds, that’s our goal. And I asked you two questions at the beginning when I stood up here in the first place. The first one was, if you used to believe in something. And the second one was if you lost that belief because someone was a dick to you. My goal, my personal goal is have everyone in the world raise their hand when they’re asked that first question. And the other part of that goal is to never even have to ask the second one.

He makes a good point. He makes several good points.

And since I like me some snark and insults, of course I started feeling defensive and trying to see if I could find any holes in his argument. Of course I want to be right. But more importantly, I want to be right for good reasons. So I started thinking of situations that looked analogous or might shed some light on the problem:

Arguments

Telepathy: I used to believe telepathy was real, or at least plausible. I remember being frustrated that the county library didn’t have any books on developing one’s telepathic talents. What started me down the road to not believing in telepathy anymore was my science teacher in Junior High telling me it didn’t work. He didn’t insult me or anything, he just told me that it didn’t exist. Here was someone I respected, an authority figure, telling me my belief was wrong. I didn’t believe him right away; it would take a year or two more, but he gave me a push in the right direction. Point to Phil.

The Open-Source movement: Free and open-source software has been around for a long time. (For those who don’t know, open-source software is software for which the source code, the stuff the programmers actually write, is available to anyone who wants it. You can’t change the way Internet Explorer works, because Microsoft won’t give you the source code. You can, however, get the code to Firefox, and, if you know what you’re doing, fix bugs and add features.) The was incorporated in 1985, but its founder, Richard Stallman, says that when he joined the open-source community in 1971, it “had existed for many years”. Stallman believes passionately in open source, and has argued for it for many years.

But it wasn’t until Eric Raymond began arguing for it that open source and free software really took off and started being taken seriously in corporate circles. While Stallman was known for berating those who wrote closed-source software as greedy, Raymond preferred to explain to people why open source was in their own best interests and how they could make money off of it. Point to Phil.

The “New” Atheism (and probably also women’s suffrage, civil rights, and gay rights): There’s nothing new about the “New Atheism”. A lot of the arguments atheists use today have been around for decades, centuries, even millennia. Answers to the major ones seem to be part of the standard apologetic curriculum in seminaries (“Why is there no evidence for God?” “He doesn’t want to violate our free will.” “Why should I believe our scripture and that of other religions?” “Because ours was inspired by God, and theirs were written by humans.”) But — at least in this country — it was losing ground to fundamentalist Christianity at least for the second half of the 20th century.

It wasn’t until Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and others wrote their surprise best-sellers that atheism became part of the national discourse, to the point where a US president mentions in a speech, and prominent religious figures feel they have to respond. Point against Phil (but provisionally; see below).

Yelled at at the intersection: On my way to the airport after TAM, I was at an intersection where the traffic light had gone out. The way I learned it, at light-free intersections, one person goes through the intersection at a time, in order of arrival. I was about third in line. Four or five cars went through from the right, and then both cars ahead of me went, so I figured that was the way it was done in Nevada, so I followed. A driver coming the other way angrily yelled at me, “One at a time!” I felt chastised, and that perhaps I had committed a faux pas. Point against Phil.

Getting to people first: There’s a lot of woo that I never believed, like the idea that you can balance an egg on end, but only on the equinox. I had never heard of that when I read Phil’s debunking of it. Likewise, I ran across the debunkings of (I think) things like homeopathy and spiritualism from people like Martin Gardner and James Randi long before I ran across the woo itself. I was thoroughly disabused of any notion that astrology might work when I read about an experiment disproving it in a French magazine similar to Scientific American.

So there’s a lot to be said for being the first to get your message to people who either haven’t heard of the problem you’re rebutting, or don’t don’t have enough invested in it to cling to it tightly. But I also don’t know how I would have reacted if these articles had ended with “Given all of the above, the people who still believe this are clearly idiots.” So I won’t award any points for this one.

Insult vs. explanation + insult: Explaining to people how they’re wrong and what the facts are, and insulting them, are not mutually exclusive. You can give an explanation, and then point out that your explanation should be patently obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with reality, and therefore your opponent is a brain-dead moron. This is different from simply saying “You’re wrong, and an idiot to boot” and leaving it at that.

Of course, if you’re going to give an explanation anyway, then you might as well suppress your anger and frustration for a few more moments, and leave out the insults. So point to Phil.

The campus preacher: I’ve mentioned Tom Short before. He’s the preacher who used to stand in front of the library when I was college and preach the standard fundie line, such as creationism, damnation, and the inerrancy of the King James Bible. He was so obnoxious and so clearly wrong, that he was the one who convinced me that if this is what Christianity is, then I want no part of it. I’ve since softened my stance, but still: point to Phil.

A safe place to land: Greta Christina has a piece (good, as usual) called A Safe Place to Land: Making Atheism Friendly for the Deconverting. It’s all about showing wavering theists and people who aren’t happy with their religion that atheism is a viable option, that it doesn’t mean giving up friendship and passion and love and community. It’s all about drawing people toward atheism, rather than away from theism. The point goes to Phil.

Lewis Black: One of the clips that plays in my mind when someone says something stupid is Lewis Black saying “You’re an idiot!” (the other is Greg House saying “You’re an idiot.”) This sketch doesn’t contain that exact phrase, but it’ll serve, since he calls creationists “stone cold fucknuts”. Black isn’t making much of a rational, pro-science argument; he mostly just uses derision to discredit creationists, Christian fundamentalists, and George Bush. So I think this is a good parallel to what Phil talked about in his presentation.

And yet, I think it works. It works because he’s funny, which makes him likable, and the audience wants to agree with him. This is not a rational approach, but an emotional one. Granted, the vast majority of bloggers aren’t as funny as Lewis Black, but if it succeeds in discrediting creationism, then it works. So although Phil talks about “what is your goal?”, I still think the point goes against him. This brings me rather neatly to

Playing to Win: I was referred to the book Playing to Win by Russell Glasser. It’s mostly about computer games, and the idea is that a lot of people have rules in their heads that aren’t actually in the rules, such as the notion that rushing your opponent (building up a few pieces quickly so that you can attack your enemy before he has had a chance to build up any defenses) is unsportsmanlike and unfair. (The Non-Prophets podcast also discussed these issues, as well as how they pertain to politics and spreading rationalism in episode 4.14, around the 59:40 mark). The idea is that if you take the moral high road in an argument (say, by patiently explaining the nuances of your position instead of calling him retarded) and lose, then you’ve still lost.

This ties in neatly with Phil’s chess analogy: is he willing to sacrifice the moral high ground (analogous to the queen), if that’s what’s necessary to achieve the greater goal? Now, I understand that his goal is not just to bring people to the truth, but also to get people to believe things for the right reasons, to give them the tools to think for themselves. Do insults and vitriol ever work better than polite, rational discussion at achieving that goal, perhaps by spurring them to read up on critical thinking? I can’t award this point to Phil. Sorry.

People will be insulted anyway, so go for it: There are people in the world who are offended at the very existence of atheists (or of evolutionists, or gays, or of pictures of Mohammed, or whatever), so why not give up on the whole “try not to offend anyone” thing altogether, and say what you want?

I suspect that Phil’s response would be something along the lines of: those people who are offended by your very existence are not the ones who should be setting the bar for what’s acceptable and unacceptable discourse. Rather, it should be about how the wider audience will perceive you. And that you can start with your own standards: how would you react to someone who said that, say, democracy is a bad idea? To someone who said you were an idiot for liking democracy? I think imaginary Phil has rebutted this argument, so the point goes to him.

Santa Claus: Matt Dillahunty of the Atheist Community of Austin has pointed out that while many children stop believing in Santa Claus because they catch their parents putting presents under the tree, others stop believing because they get teased about it by the older kids on the school bus. Or at least, this can start them on the road to doubting Santa Claus and figuring out the truth.

More generally, people don’t want to feel foolish. If they think their opinion will get them laughed at, they’re more likely to keep quiet. Now, this doesn’t stop them from believing foolish things, but it does help keep them out of the way when you’re trying to teach someone else. There are still people out there who believe in flying saucers, the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, crop circles, and the CIA conspiracy to kill JFK, but they have no real sway in society because at this point they’re little more than a punchline. 9/11 truthers are, I think, rapidly heading down that road as well.

Along the same lines, while there’s still a lot of racism in the US, at least it’s gotten to the point where it’s no longer socially acceptable. This doesn’t stop people from being racists, but it does mean that anyone who wanted to, say, reintroduce segregated schools would quickly be booed out of the town meeting. If we could get to the point where creationism and ID are widely perceived as being a joke, then that would at least stop people from trying to subvert the teaching of science in public schools, which in itself would be a step forward. So I’ll score this as a point against Phil.

The straight man and the comedian: In a lot of comedy sketches, there’s a straight man, who isn’t funny at all, but just sets up the situation for the audience, so that the comedian can give the funny punchline. The comedian gets all the laughs, but the straight man plays a necessary part. Or, as one person put it, Dean Martin’s job is to make Jerry Lewis funny. Another analogy might be game hunting, where some people have the job of beating the bushes to drive rabbits and other game toward the hunters. So perhaps those of us without proper credentials or a knack for clear explanation can shame the people who believe in woo, and drive them toward teachers, people who can explain the facts.

Where this analogy breaks down is that beating or being the straight man are things that anyone can do, but that are also unrewarding. It’s much more glamorous to be the comedian, or the hunter. Whereas in this discussion, anyone can fling insults, and that’s also the fun part. It’s the difficult job of calm, patient education that is the thankless one, or at least the one that doesn’t deliver immediate visceral gratification. So this analogy doesn’t really work, and the point goes to Phil.

Have you ever changed your mind because someone called someone else an idiot? This was my original question to Phil after the talk, and he said he considered it, but didn’t really have a good answer to it. Basically, if you believe in, say, homeopathy, and hear someone call a third person an idiot and a retard for believing in homeopathy, will that make you more or less likely to stop believing in it?

This sounds similar to the beater/hunter analogy above, but I think it’s slightly yet significantly different, and closer to the chess analogy. It’s also related to something I learned on talk.origins: you don’t argue with creationists to convince your ostensive disputant. Rather, you’re playing to the audience, the lurkers who have stumbled onto the discussion but aren’t posting because they don’t have anything to add, or because they’re afraid of being ripped to shreds, or whatever.

Now, this may just be a rationalization for why a bunch of us nerds kept going back and slapping down the same bad arguments again and again and again, because SIWOTI. But I don’t think so, so I’ll tentatively score this as a point against Phil.

Discussion

I think I’ve counted most of the points above in Phil’s favor (if not, I’ll go back and adjust the weights so that they are), so I think that by and large, he’s right.

On the whole, I like Phil’s viewpoint: I’d like to live in a world where superstition and ignorance can be overcome by education and polite discourse. But I’m afraid that that’s like thinking we live in a world where war is never necessary (a delusion with which I’m all too familiar, believe me).

Of course, at the beginning of his talk, Phil said that he was trying to curb the excesses of the blogosphere. So maybe he would say that sometimes, insults are necessary or unavoidable, just as war is sometimes the least unacceptable option. But maybe we can all agree that, all else being equal, more civil discussion is preferable.

Having said that, there’s a lot to be said for doing what it takes to win. When insults and vitriol work, use them; when they don’t, don’t. One problem, though, is that this is not a war, where you destroy the enemy’s army and go home. Or a game, where you score the most points and go home. Or politics, where you only need to worry about one election at a time. What we the skeptical movement are doing is more like homesteading. The problems we face today — ignorance, superstition, and the like — are never going away, because each new generation starts out ignorant, and because our brains are wired for superstition. We need to be in this for the long haul.

And just as the iterated prisoner’s dilemma calls for a different strategy than the single-shot prisoner’s dilemma, “what works” is probably not as machiavellian as it sounds. If you call someone a idiot on an Internet forum and drive them away, you’ve won the day, because there’s one less idiot around. But if you explain to someone why they’re wrong, where their argument doesn’t work, where their thinking is faulty, then you’re investing in the future. You may not convince your opponent that you’re right and he’s wrong, but you might, perhaps, get him to stop using that particular argument. If you’re lucky, he may even explain to others on his side why that’s not a convincing argument. Perhaps more importantly, if you’re not a dick, you’re not driving them away from future conversation.

Don’t forget that you’re representing the team. If you’ve ever been cut off by a car with a Jesus fish, or seen a WWJD sticker and thought “Jesus would use his damn turn signals”, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t drive people away from me because they’re pissed at you, and we both walk under the same label.

On Internet forums and other public conversations, remember that you’re playing for an audience. You may not be able to sway your opponent — in fact, you should probably just assume that you won’t — but you can have an effect on the audience. Sometimes, like Lewis Black, you might be able to pull off the being the smart funny guy with the acerbic wit and withering stare, but far more often, the way to win is to be the guy who had all the facts, presented his side clearly, and stuck to the topic at hand, and let the other guy be the irrational bozo who has to resort to insulting you.

But most importantly, I don’t have the answers. You should ignore probably 80% of what I said above. I just wish I knew which 80%. (And yes, I realize that lot of Phil’s criticism was addressed at me.) I don’t know how to effectively promote rational thought, and I don’t think anyone knows. But I think we’re smart, we’re inquisitive, we’re flexible in our thinking and open to argument and correction, so let’s crowdsource this problem.

Let’s ask ourselves Phil’s questions: “Is this argument necessary? What is your goal? What are you trying to accomplish? Before you talk, before you leave a comment, before you engage a pseudoscientist, before you raise your hand, before you sign that email, ask yourself: is this going to help? Is this going to allow me to achieve my goal? And you also need to ask yourself: will this impede me from achieving my goal? Is this just to make me feel better, or am I trying to change the world?”

And let’s see what works, and do that.

(Update: Added the bit that got truncated the first time.)

Update, Jul. 16, 9:11: See the followup.

Update, Aug. 17: The JREF has posted the video, so you can watch the whole thing.

Update, Oct. 5, 2015: Link rot.

64 thoughts on “The “Don’t Be A Dick” Heard Round the World

  1. Regarding snark; I think Thomas Jefferson put it best (from http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson):

    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them…

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816

  2. This post is an excellent summary and discussion of what I was saying at TAM 8. 🙂 I’ll admit I glossed over some specifics because I lacked time in the talk to cover everything, and I didn’t necessarily mean that we need to be nice all the time. I had a version of this talk with Dalton’s Rule (“Be nice, until it’s time to not be nice”) but had to remove it due to lack of space.

    I am collecting discussions of my talk for a blog post sometime soon, and I will feature this one prominently. Well done!

  3. This argument would be moot if every person on the internet had to step from behind their anonymous mask. Also, instead of calling someone an idiot to drive them away, why not just ignore them?

  4. Anonymity fuels so much Internet rudeness.

    Also, instead of calling someone an idiot to drive them away, why not just ignore them? That method has served me well over the years. Make your case first if you must, but name calling says more about the caller than it does about the object of the insult.

  5. Of course anonymity is not a bug, but people abuse it to a ridiculous degree. In so many instances on the internet, anonymity diminishes credibility; and name-calling all but obliterates it.

    (Sorry about the double-post, the page was being a bit wiggy before.)

  6. Just to clarify, in case anyone was confused: Russell Glasser is a terrific guy and well worth reading and listening to, but he didn’t write Playing to Win. He merely pointed me at it. The sentence that mentions him isn’t as clear as it should have been.

  7. Basically, if you believe in, say, homeopathy, and hear someone call a third person an idiot and a retard for believing in homeopathy, will that make you more or less likely to stop believing in it?

    It’s funny you use this example, because that’s exactly what happened to me. I didn’t use homeopathy anymore, but I didn’t understand what it really was. Reading the personal vitriol spewed by skeptics towards homeopaths did make me stop and think “Hey, maybe I should look into this more.” And that led to my understanding of what a total scam it was. That said, this is a much different experience from someone personally attacking me about it.

  8. Since I could not be at TAM this year, I so appreciate your thoughtful, rational discussion of Phil’s talk. It was difficult to follow from Twitter. I think you’ve made some excellent points. A little snark and ridicule and a little kindness where appropriate. 🙂

  9. I think this is a case where the best answer is a little from column A and a little from column B. Sound and civil arguments are best. But people are naturally attracted to power and authority, which is communicated by style and wit. Since most people will not read 10 pages of evidence and reason in order to disabuse themselves of one paragraph of idiocy, being effective means finding ways to cut down or outshine that paragraph with a sentence or a word. Depending on the audience, a bit of ridicule may be the most apt technique, but I’d think you’d want to be able to follow that up with substance and grace.

  10. While I’ve covered most of this on my blog (tribalscientist.wordpress.com), I thought I’d post a comment here just to continue the discussion.

    Probably the single most disappointing factor in the current debate on tone is the complete abandonment of the skills rationalists employ when it comes to the ‘woo’ they’re used to challenging. There’s no research, no seeking out expert opinion, no sign of evaluation of practices etc. It’s all personal anecdote and blind assertion. Is we were discussing a psychic’s claim, every logical fallacy and appeal to anecdote would be stripped bare and exposed for its weaknesses. Why is it ok to avoid supporting claims with research when it comes to the effectiveness of communication and outreach?

    Arguably the most common blind assertion I hear on the topic is that there is room for/a demand for all methods. Now, I have doubts this is true based on my science communication experience, however am open to being convinced there are efficient methods of identifying a necessity within a demographic that requires ridicule to be a component of the medium. Yet assertion is where it seems to end. At best, evidence is based on personal anecdotes of times that individual was insulted and it ‘woke them up’. At worst there is silence, a shifting of the goal posts or a strawman response.

    If ridicule is an effective tool, it should be used. But the effectiveness of communication should be approached with the same respect for good evidence that we expect from any other claim and not the logical fallacies, guessing, blind assertions and special pleading we so heartily rubbish in pseudoscience.

    Mike McRae

  11. TribalScientist:

    If ridicule is an effective tool, it should be used. But the effectiveness of communication should be approached with the same respect for good evidence that we expect from any other claim and not the logical fallacies, guessing, blind assertions and special pleading we so heartily rubbish in pseudoscience.

    I was thinking the same thing. It would be interesting to look at some of the fads of the past few decades, see what kind of woo was hot in, say, 1970, see how the skeptical community reacted (like James Randi’s debunkings of Uri Geller and Peter Popoff on the Johnny Carson show), and see what that did.

    What kinds of woo died out, and which ones persisted? Do variants of woo die out on their own (I don’t hear much about Erich von Däniken or transcendental meditation anymore)? Can they be helped along somehow? Can we learn from history?

    Would it be possible to conduct a semi-controlled experiment, e.g., at TAM 9, urge everyone to mock homeopaths mercilessly, but go easy on the chiropractors, and see where things go in a year?

    Randi pointed out at TAM that he and a lot of people expected that publicly exposing people as frauds would cause them to go away, but to his surprise, both Geller and Popoff are still around. He also mentioned that when he showed how to do psychic surgery using sleight of hand, the Carson Show switchboard lit up with people asking how they could get in touch with these psychic surgeons who cure people.

    The obvious conclusion is that rational argument and evidence don’t work with everyone.

  12. There’s (at least) one relevent distinction that I don’t see being made and it’s forcing a false dichotomy in discussions of this matter. That’s an appropriate view of the various potential targets of snark and ridicule. In my interactions with ‘regular’ people about these kinds of issues I keep the snark and ridicule at a very low level, because I’m mostly interested in the conversation continuing. However, I think people like Ken Ham and Casey Luskin deserve all the snark it’s possible to generate. That’s for a couple of reasons. First, it transmits the clear message that one holds them in contempt, and it’s less than honest to treat a Ken Ham the same as I treat a local creationist with whom I’m talking about these things.

    Second, the public contempt is tactically potentially useful if it’s well executed and not merely name calling. Rather, say, than calling Casey Luskin an ignoramus and leaving it at that, one calls him an ignoramus and then shows exactly why that’s so using the appropriate evidence. The audience is not Casey, of course, it’s the lurkers. And they are real. In years as a moderator and then administrator of (the late lamented) Internet Infidels Discussion Board and now as a contributor to Panda’s Thumb (as well as being a local activist in these matters), I’ve received a fair amount of private feedback from lurkers, so they’re really out there reading and learning.

    So in my less than humble opinion the appropriate targets of snark are the leaders, the con men (and women), scammers, and leeches who are pitching (and being paid for) the woo. The audience we’re addressing is not them but is the lurkers and lay audiences, and for them the snark at leaders has to be accompanied by reasons why the snark is appropriate.

    Or put more succinctly, I like “He’s a moron and here’s exactly why” rather than “He’s a moron” or (what’s worse) “You’re a moron.” So Phil’s ‘To dick or not to dick’ representation doesn’t take into consideration what I see as an alternative and effective mode of operation.

  13. RBH:
    You make several good points, and I say that because I make several of them in the post that’s scheduled to appear tomorrow (keep watching this space 🙂 ).

    Briefly, I think Phil was talking about the excesses of skeptics in the blagosphere, not justified rants, and certainly not justified passion. (I believe his exact words were, “If anyone wants to argue my passion and dedication, bring it!”)

    And if Phil is arguing against the sorts of things that, say, Hitchens or Randi say, then Phil’s wrong. There’s a lot of room in which to be passionate, outspoken, even profane and insulting, without being a dick about it.

  14. What the hell? A long comment got lost somewhere. I’ll try to reconstruct it, though it’ll be tough.

    Phil’s representation (framing?) of the issue creates a false dichotomy that is sending discussion off in less than useful directions. The question is not “To be a dick or not to be a dick?”, it’s “To whom should one be a dick under what circumstances?”

    On account of the Freshwater affair I’ve been following for two years, I find myself in conversations with lots of ‘regular’ people, many of them creationists. I keep the snark at a very low level with them, because I want the conversation to continue in hopes that they’ll learn a little something. And some have, I think.

    On the other hand, when I’m writing about, say, something Casey Luskin or Ken Ham has said, I’m liable to let the snark flow freely. But it’s not pure snark, it’s of the nature ‘Luskin’s an ignoramus, and here’s why,’ where the ‘here’s why’ has evidence and reasoning grounding it. The target audience, of course, is not Casey; it’s the lurkers, as arensb says.

    In a decade as a moderator and administrator of (the late lamented) Internet Infidels Discussion Board and as a founding contributor to Panda’s Thumb, I’ve learned that the lurkers are real. They’re out there reading and learning, and I’ve received a non-trivial amount of feedback from them over the years. Lately, on account of my coverage of the Freshwater affair I’m getting a fair amount (mostly email) from local lurkers, people right here in this conservative rural community who both appreciate and are learning from what I write. That I’m snarky about some of the people who are driving the fundamentalist agenda here not only doesn’t put them off, it encourages them to contact me. And they are the target audience, not the hard-core fundamentalist pastors and lawyers who are pushing this case about whom I can get fairly snarky.

    Put more succinctly, I prefer “He’s a moron, and here’s why” where “He” is an influential scammer, con man, or pitcher of woo. “He’s a moron” is much less effective, and “You’re a moron” directed at one’s audience is least effective.

    A side effect to be desired of the “Casey’s an ignoramus and here’s why” approach is to erode Casey’s credibility. Every time he’s called out and shown to be an ignoramus his credibility diminishes a bit among my target audience. And that’s an outcome worth working hard for. I want the persuadable audience–the lurkers–to learn that Luskin and Ham and their ilk have no credibility. And a little well expressed contempt is useful in that effort.

    (And I have saved this comment to file in case I screw it up again.)

  15. RBH:
    It looks like your comment didn’t get lost, it just got delayed by caching, or something. I’ve just checked the spam bucket, and it doesn’t look like there’s anything of yours in there.

    I find myself in conversations with lots of ‘regular’ people, many of them creationists. I keep the snark at a very low level with them, because I want the conversation to continue in hopes that they’ll learn a little something.

    Yes, and I think most people already do that. Ditto with friends and family, and people one meets face to face. But it’s much easier to lash out at someone on the Internet. (One reason I have the gravatar icons in the comments is that it gives commenters a smidgen of personality, so that they’re a little more than just a name.)

    Put more succinctly, I prefer “He’s a moron, and here’s why” where “He” is an influential scammer, con man, or pitcher of woo. “He’s a moron” is much less effective, and “You’re a moron” directed at one’s audience is least effective.

    Agreed. That’s what I meant by “insult vs. explanation + insult”, above.

    (And I have saved this comment to file in case I screw it up again.)

    If you use Firefox, there’s a wonderful plugin called It’s All Text that allows you to use your favorite text editor to edit text fields on web pages. As a side effect, if your editor keeps backup copies, you might have a backup of lost comments.

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  17. A very cool discussion.

    I have a question for y’all. Why is it so important to convince others that they are wrong about this or that? Do you believe that the world will be a much better place if say homeopathy is no longer practiced, and if so, why?

    Some people here seem to argue that it may be worth it to be a dick if it jolts some homeopathy believer somewhere. But… if you want to make a better world, wouldn’t “not being a dick” be higher priority than avoiding sugar pills?

  18. vera:
    As with most quackery, the main problem with homeopathy is that it discourages people from seeking treatment that actually works. See whatstheharm.net for many examples.

    If people are harming themselves or others, whether through action or inaction, do you care? I do, because I care about my fellow human beings.

    Furthermore, homeopathy is not just a problem in itself, but also a symptom of a larger problem: that of people believing things for the wrong reasons: magical thinking, selective memory, and so forth. So the larger goal of the skeptic community is not to ban quackery, but to give people the tools to make good decisions. Teach a man to fish, and all that.

    But… if you want to make a better world, wouldn’t “not being a dick” be higher priority than avoiding sugar pills?

    Politeness is good, of course. But given a choice between a polite world where people die because they avoid effective treatment for diseases; and a more dickish world where superstition and fuzzy thinking are swiftly smacked down, and people seek cures that actually work; I’ll take the latter.

    But the point of Phil’s talk was that that’s a false dichotomy: you don’t have to be a dick to people to get them to think straight.

  19. Thank you, arensb. My sense is that people end up avoiding effective treatments for all sorts of reasons. Denial, for example. Been there. Or because they do not wish to undergo certain “heroic” procedures and would rather live and die in a low tech way, at home. Or because their doc misinforms them. Or because they get confused. Or because clinical trials are so effing hard to find, for some things (been there). I could probably make a huge list here…

    As for homeopathy, most people end up using in it in innocuous ways, or where “effective treatment” does not exist, or has significant side effects the person would rather avoid (e.g. for eczema instead of steroids).

    In any case… what is so bad about all this? Isn’t this the human condition? Should I go hectoring you if you want to treat your disease in ways I don’t favor? Would hectoring work (not to mention insults)?

    Rather than denouncing homeopathy, the more effective strategy seems to be to support the ill person, while offering other options. After all, unless that person is at risk (and there really is an effective treatment), homeopathy can provide a placebo effect… which really is the best cure of all. No side effects at all.

    I guess what I am trying to get at here, and my question was about, is this: why is it important to convince others they are wrong about certain things? We are all wrong about a whole cart load of shit. That’s the human condition. Why get all vexed about homeopathy, or religion? Why not hammer on behaviors rather than beliefs?

  20. Thank you, arensb. My sense is that people end up avoiding effective treatments for all sorts of reasons. Denial, for example. Been there. Or because they do not wish to undergo certain “heroic” procedures and would rather live and die in a low tech way, at home. Or because their doc misinforms them. Or because they get confused. Or because clinical trials are so effing hard to find, for some things (been there). I could probably make a huge list here…

    As for homeopathy, most people end up using in it in innocuous ways, or where “effective treatment” does not exist, or has significant side effects the person would rather avoid (e.g. for eczema instead of steroids).

    In any case… what is so bad about all this? Isn’t this the human condition? Should I go hectoring you if you want to treat your disease in ways I don’t favor? Would hectoring work (not to mention insults)?

    Rather than denouncing homeopathy, the more effective strategy seems to be to support the ill person, while offering other options. After all, unless that person is at risk (and there really is an effective treatment), homeopathy can provide a placebo effect… which really is the best cure of all. No side effects at all.

    I guess what I am trying to get at here, and my question was about, is this: why is it important to convince others they are wrong about certain things? We are all wrong about a whole cart load of shit. That’s the human condition. Why get all vexed about homeopathy, or religion? Why not hammer on behaviors rather than beliefs?

  21. vera:

    homeopathy can provide a placebo effect… which really is the best cure of all. No side effects at all.

    Unless you count death as a side effect.

    Seriously, you can’t have meant what you wrote above. Are you really saying that antibiotics work no better than placebos against bacterial infections? That chemotherapy and radiation therapy are no better than placebos at curing cancer? (Look again at the list on whatstheharm.net and see how many of the people there died of untreated cancers.)

    In any case… what is so bad about all this? Isn’t this the human condition?

    So, what? Am I supposed to just shrug and accept that people are going to suffer and die needlessly, and not do anything about it?

    For thousands of years, a large proportion of women died in childbirth, and children routinely died before the age of five. Old and even middle-aged people died of “fever”. (To say nothing of various social ills like being executed for professing the wrong belief, or having no say in who your ruler is.) Should people have just shrugged and accepted that that’s the way it has always been and always will be?

    Right now, we have people suffering and dying because they’re wasting time on remedies that don’t work. I’d rather try, perhaps in vain, to come up with a solution, than to do nothing.

    Why not hammer on behaviors rather than beliefs?

    Because one’s beliefs affect one’s actions. To take an extreme example, the 9/11 attacks were committed by people who honestly, sincerely believed that killing infidels was a good thing for which they’d be rewarded in paradise. To take a less extreme example, if you believe that chicken soup cures the flu, you’re more likely to eat chicken soup the next time you catch the flu, rather than go to a doctor who can prescribe something that works. Yes, you’ll likely recover either way, but will you miss two weeks of work, or only one?

    Besides, there are far too many bogus beliefs to fight them one at a time (how many seasons has Penn & Teller’s Bullshit! been on?). A better approach is to fix people’s erroneous beliefs, and make them not want to take snake oil in the first place.

  22. I am surprised by your response. What I am trying to say is that… shouldn’t we focus on humans rather than ideas? If my friend decides to treat curable cancer with homeopathy, I will make a fuss. If on the other hand, he wants to treat his sciatica with it, before resorting to a spinal steroid shot, why not? (This is not an idle example. My elderly neighbor had an amazing recovery with homeopathic drops. We were three days away from the steroid shot appointment, when I saw her walking outside as though nothing was wrong. She was confined to the walker indoors prior to that. And the treatment promised only weeks or months of relief. How would it have profited her if I ran in denouncing her homeopathic drops as stupid and pointless? Maybe, if I did, I woulda ruined her placebo effect!)

    Btw, I did not say anything at all regarding antibiotics.

    Your example deals with issues people WANT to be helped with. But we were talking about issues people want to make their own decisions about. Again, I ask you, how would it profit my neighbor if I had denounced her self-treatment?

    Yes, people are ill and dying because of bad choices. Sometimes, those choices involve alt-med. Other times, people are ill and dying because they took mainstream advice. And yet others are ill or dying because they decided to do nothing. There are no guarantees, are there?

    “Because one’s beliefs affect one’s actions.”

    That in itself is a belief, and I am more and more persuaded that this is a faulty assumption. There is a link, but… we don’t really know exactly how people’s beliefs will affect people’s actions. It’s damn hard to apply it to oneself; trying to outguess other people seems to me pointless, meddlesome, and irrational. I know Christians who believe God commanded that witches be put to death. However, as long as they don’t ACT on that belief, and show no inclination to do so, then why would I want to mess with them?

    “A better approach is to fix people’s erroneous beliefs…”

    Would you like it if I applied this, IMO, condescendingly patronizing approach to you? Or do you generally prefer that other people mind their business and you take care of your own fixins, thank you very much? 🙂

  23. vera Says:

    Rather than denouncing homeopathy, the more effective strategy seems to be to support the ill person, while offering other options.

    If we’re rating strategies by their relative potential effectiveness then it follows the most effective is to employ both – support the “ill person” with rational options while pointing out the nigh-insurmountable evidence that homeopathy offers no benefits except as a treatment option for dehydration.

  24. homeopathy offers no benefits except as a treatment option for dehydration.

    And indigence, if you’re selling the stuff.

  25. You keep missing my point. Is it intentional?

    “A better approach is to fix people’s erroneous beliefs…”

    Would you like it if I applied this, IMO, condescendingly patronizing approach to you? Or do you generally prefer that other people mind their business and you take care of your own fixins, thank you very much?

    Fez, clearly, homeopathy offers another benefit: the placebo effect. And a very valuable thing that is, as the story of my neighbor attests.

  26. vera Says: “Fez, clearly, homeopathy offers another benefit: the placebo effect. And a very valuable thing that is, as the story of my neighbor attests.”
    Then the benefit stems from the placebo effect, not from an offered homeopathic remedy. You could just as easily sell sugar pills, or a “health ray”, or group prayer – they’re all placebo effect. Nothing special about homeopathy.

  27. My post keeps appearing and disappearing. Very confusing. If I repost, then it appears twice…

    Fez, the key about the placebo effect is that it must be somehow triggered within the believer. Shouldn’t my neighbor be the judge what may best work for her? This is why, when a kid gets a wart, the doctor “prescribes” an official looking vial of water. The child believes it is potent medicine, and lo and behold, the wart disappears. (At least doctors used to…)

  28. Arensb, this is the post that should have followed your post ending with “snake oil in the first place.” It was there, and now it’s gone…?

    I am surprised by your response. What I am trying to say is that… shouldn’t we focus on humans rather than ideas? If my friend decides to treat curable cancer with homeopathy, I will make a fuss. If on the other hand, he wants to treat his sciatica with it, before resorting to a spinal steroid shot, why not? (This is not an idle example. My elderly neighbor had an amazing recovery with homeopathic drops. We were three days away from the steroid shot appointment, when I saw her walking outside as though nothing was wrong. She was confined to the walker indoors prior to that. And the treatment promised only weeks or months of relief. How would it have profited her if I ran in denouncing her homeopathic drops as stupid and pointless? Maybe, if I did, I woulda ruined her placebo effect!)

    Btw, I did not say anything at all regarding antibiotics.

    Your example deals with issues people WANT to be helped with. But we were talking about issues people want to make their own decisions about. Again, I ask you, how would it profit my neighbor if I had denounced her self-treatment?

    Yes, people are ill and dying because of bad choices. Sometimes, those choices involve alt-med. Other times, people are ill and dying because they took mainstream advice. And yet others are ill or dying because they decided to do nothing. There are no guarantees, are there?

    “Because one’s beliefs affect one’s actions.”

    That in itself is a belief, and I am more and more persuaded that this is a faulty assumption. There is a link, but… we don’t really know exactly how people’s beliefs will affect people’s actions. It’s damn hard to apply it to oneself; trying to outguess other people seems to me pointless, meddlesome, and irrational. I know Christians who believe God commanded that witches be put to death. However, as long as they don’t ACT on that belief, and show no inclination to do so, then why would I want to mess with them?

    “A better approach is to fix people’s erroneous beliefs…”

    Would you like it if I applied this, IMO, condescendingly patronizing approach to you? Or do you generally prefer that other people mind their business and you take care of your own fixins, thank you very much? 🙂

  29. vera:

    My post keeps appearing and disappearing. Very confusing. If I repost, then it appears twice…

    Yeah, sorry about that. I’m working through problems in both the caching and anti-spam plugins.

    One thing that seems to exacerbate the problem is when someone who isn’t a regular posts too often. So when you immediately repost a comment, the spam filter tends to think that you’re a spammer. I suggest waiting an hour before reposting.

  30. vera Says:

    Fez, the key about the placebo effect is that it must be somehow triggered within the believer.

    That’s certainly one way to look at it. I prefer to consider the key fact that placebo studies have not indicated any objective measurement of improvement (ie. independently measurable results such as a sustained reduction in hypertension). Only when the analysis of “improvement” is limited to subjective measurements (where the patient is asked to provide feedback) are the placebo results promising, and it appears that in the majority of those cases when the patient is informed that their treatment was a placebo the positive gains have almost immediately disappeared.

    The other key that I don’t think you’re getting or are unwilling to admit is that in the arena of placebo treatments it doesn’t particularly matter how it’s administered thus homeopathy is no more valuable a treatment than other placebo approaches. At the end of the day it would appear that improvements are at best ephemeral and the patient has potentially extended the duration of their suffering as well as exposed themselves to the risk of permanent damage up to and including loss of life because they did not have sufficient knowledge made available to them to make an informed decision about a course of treatment.

    Shouldn’t my neighbor be the judge what may best work for her?

    Shouldn’t your neighbor be provided sufficient information from a variety of sources so they can engage in informed consent to treatment options?

  31. vera:

    This is why, when a kid gets a wart, the doctor “prescribes” an official looking vial of water. The child believes it is potent medicine, and lo and behold, the wart disappears. (At least doctors used to…)

    Just out of curiosity, I searched PubMed for studies comparing various wart treatments to placebos. An interesting trend appeared: here’s one where 91% of patients got better after being treated with formic acid, compared to 10% who got placebos. Here’s another where silver nitrate produced some improvement 69% of the time, vs. 26% with placebos. And another showing that Propolis works “significantly better” than either Echinacea or placebos.

    So while there’s no doubt that the placebo effect is real, there are other treatments that have been demonstrated to work better. So when you’re deciding how to spend your medical dollar, do you want to spend it on the thing that works 75% of the time or better, or on the thing that works 25% of the time or less?

  32. Fez, we’ve begun to talk past one another. So, briefly…

    “Shouldn’t your neighbor be provided sufficient information from a variety of sources so they can engage in informed consent to treatment options?”

    And who is to decide when they are “ready” to make their own decisions? You?

    “So when you’re deciding how to spend your medical dollar, do you want to spend it on the thing that works 75% of the time or better, or on the thing that works 25% of the time or less?”

    That depends on the side effects. When time is not of the essence, why not try something that works 25% of the time with no side effects, and only progress to other substances with more side effects if needed? Again: who decides? The patient, or some meddlers who would rather police what is available to the patient according to their own criteria?

  33. Fez, we’ve begun to talk past one another. So, briefly…

    “Shouldn’t your neighbor be provided sufficient information from a variety of sources so they can engage in informed consent to treatment options?”

    And who is to decide when they are “ready” to make their own decisions? You?

    Arensb: “So when you’re deciding how to spend your medical dollar, do you want to spend it on the thing that works 75% of the time or better, or on the thing that works 25% of the time or less?”

    That depends on the side effects. When time is not of the essence, why not try something that works 25% of the time with no side effects, and only progress to other substances with more side effects if needed? Again: who decides? The patient, or some meddlers who would rather police what is available to the patient according to their own criteria?

    (I have not posted all night, and still the spam filter caught this message. I am reposting it just to try to make sure it’s there. Please delete the previous copy if you catch it.)

  34. vera Says:

    And who is to decide when they are “ready” to make their own decisions? You?

    Please indicate where in this discussion I assigned the responsibility for decision making to anyone besides the hypothetical patient. You may think we were talking past each other but now you appear to be carrying on a conversation with yourself.

  35. Fez, you said: “Shouldn’t your neighbor be provided sufficient information from a variety of sources so they can engage in informed consent to treatment options?”

    My neighbor is a retired nurse, age 79. She decided to go for homeopathy. I did not interfere, assuming she has the information she needs after our visit to her doctor; indeed, I was happy she still has the spunk to try something on her own, especially since she was so unhappy about having a shot of steroid of dubious efficacy into her spine. And I knew homeopathy would not hurt her.

    I took your comment to imply that someone else besides my neighbor ought to decide when she has enough information. Did I hear it wrong?

    What would you have done differently vis a vis my neighbor, and why?

  36. vera Says:

    I took your comment to imply that someone else besides my neighbor ought to decide when she has enough information. Did I hear it wrong?

    Yes, if that’s what you took away you misunderstood. The primary point that I believe I’ve been consistent on is that information should be made available with a secondary point that misinformation should be corrected.

    What would you have done differently vis a vis my neighbor, and why?

    I only have interest in discussing general hypotheticals and no interest in engaging in a 20 questions game of remote diagnosis. I’ll leave the no-contact diagnosis to the likes of Robyn Welch and Senator Bill Frist

    Why are you coming across as having a strong desire to suppress information that belies the efficacy of homeopathy?

  37. “The primary point that I believe I’ve been consistent on is that information should be made available with a secondary point that misinformation should be corrected.”

    She had the information she needed. If I went on about homeopathy being woo, I probably would have ruined her placebo effect. Would you have felt duty-bound to disabuse her of her hope that homeopathy might help her? Why?

    (I did not ask you about diagnosis. Her diagnosis was clear: severe and disabling sciatica. I did ask you about considering her specific case in terms of additional information needed. It is altogether too easy to talk in generalities and ignoring the needs of actual human beings.)

    “Why are you coming across as having a strong desire to suppress information that belies the efficacy of homeopathy?”

    Am I? In what way? I am for doing right by fellow humans. There is plenty of info about homeopathy out there for people who want it, and I have never tried to suppress any of it. 🙂 Doing right by fellow humans, it seems to me, is to pay attention and be sensitive to the particulars of their situation, and exercising humility about my own understandings, not forcing it on them as though “I Know Best.” Would you agree?

  38. vera Says:

    She had the information she needed.

    Did she? You’re absolutely certain of that? There is no remaining pressure on the sciatic nerve? Wonderful.

    Tell me – what is the statistical significance of a sample size of one?

    (I did not ask you about diagnosis. Her diagnosis was clear: severe and disabling sciatica. I did ask you about considering her specific case in terms of additional information needed. It is altogether too easy to talk in generalities and ignoring the needs of actual human beings.)

    You asked me to put myself into the position of deciding what information I would impart or advice I might give when context is completely lacking. You’ve brought up this neighbor multiple times but it was only relatively recent in your commentary that you mentioned she was a retired health care professional. What other relevant pieces of information remain that have to be teased out through some extended Q&A with a suspect source? Not interested.

    Why do I think your motives are not unimpeachable? Let’s revisit a cross section of your comments:

    Why is it so important to convince others that they are wrong about this or that?

    Do you believe that the world will be a much better place if say homeopathy is no longer practiced

    In any case… what is so bad about all this [homepathy]?

    why is it important to convince others they are wrong about certain things?

    There’s a common theme throughout your comments; a desire for other people to justify their skepticism towards homeopathy to you with a subtext that the anti-homeopathy views expressed here are somehow being “forced” upon others. Apparently you’ve forgotten or neglected to notice that you’re on someone’s personal blog who has pretty well established their opinion on the matter. Additionally, the blog owner answered your questions some distance back:
    arensb wrote:

    So, what? Am I supposed to just shrug and accept that people are going to suffer and die needlessly, and not do anything about it?
    […]
    Right now, we have people suffering and dying because they’re wasting time on remedies that don’t work. I’d rather try, perhaps in vain, to come up with a solution, than to do nothing.

    You’re here all but demanding arensb justify himself. You did the same to me – I’ve answered your questions multiple times. If the answers you received aren’t what you wanted consider asking a different question or perhaps explaining what you’re looking for. Right now you’ve left me with the impression that you’d be happier if I kept my skepticism to myself. As things are, I’m doing the next-best-thing – I’m keeping it to a skeptic-friendly forum where if anyone is disturbed or upset because it conflicts with their irrational beliefs they have only themselves to blame. No forcing here.

    On that topic of forcing one’s opinions on others I want to revisit this
    vera wrote:

    If my friend decides to treat curable cancer with homeopathy, I will make a fuss. If on the other hand, he wants to treat his sciatica with it, before resorting to a spinal steroid shot, why not?…
    Shouldn’t my neighbor be the judge what may best work for her?

    So you see no problem imposing your opinion on someone and judging what’s best for them in some cases but not in others? How do you determine when it’s supportive and when it’s destructive? There’s a whole continuum of medical issues from hangnails to stage IV cancer. When do you start fussing? Do you fuss at a different point in the spectrum based upon your relationship to the person?

  39. Fez, we are NOT talking about statistics. We are not talking about who is right. We are talking about someone’s life. No, I don’t know where the line is where I would start fussing. You seem to prefer starting fussing with the hangnail; after all, woo must be vanquished! I generally cross that bridge when I come to it. But I don’t presume to act as though “I know best” for another person.

    My motives unimpeacheable? WTF?

    Yes, I came here with certain questions… why is it that humans have the need to follow this pattern: 1) figure out what the “truth” is, so they can be “right” and then 2) try to shove it down people’s throats, and 3) if people resist said throat shoving, call them morons and worse? Why are effing beliefs so important that we have to go to bloody wars of words over them? I never heard from either of you back on those points I was making. Yes, this is a skeptics’ forum. Is it also “we have made our minds up and locked them and threw away the key” forum? I guess I am wasting my time.

    No, I would not be happier if you kept your skepticism to yourself. I’d be happier if skeptics in general were not dicks self-righteously meddling with people’s lives on behalf of their ideologies but paid attention to real humans in real situations. After all, it was Phil’s speech that brought me here. I am not calling people here dicks. I am saying… this would be my wish for the skeptic community. Cut out the damn crusade.

    I have cancer, and there is an alternative treatment that likely saved my life when I was dying. Though known for a hundred years, it is not available to cancer patients in the U.S. because of dicks like I am describing, people who blacklisted the treatment and made sure it was unavailable. Why? It did not fit in with their ideologies and ways of functioning. Fuck that. People like that destroy lives too. I was lucky to be able to get it elsewhere, and import it. (And no, I did not eschew mainstream treatments. I ran out of options.)

    And finally, because I ran a lymphoma site for a long time, I have spoken with innumerable cancer patients, and never have I tried to impose my view on them. In fact, what I always say to them is, go with your gut. The docs have stats, but you are not a stat. Educate yourself and make up your own mind after you’ve gotten second and third opinions.

    And one more thing. The skeptical mind-shuttered dicks I am referring to above have made impartial testing of alternatives all but impossible. Even the national CAM office has been a joke, taken over by people who have no desire to give alternatives a fair shake. They took the money and spent it on shit like…do cancer patients feel better when they get a massage? Right. I am sure we’ve all been waiting with bated breath for that one.

    Anyways. I am done. Thank you both for the exchange.

  40. Is it also “we have made our minds up and locked them and threw away the key” forum?

    No, but it’s also not a, “we’re so open-minded our brains fell out” forum.

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