Revenge of the Listener Feedback

Another peek into the mailbag to see who loves us, and who hates us.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid #153
May 12, 2009
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe
 

Sometimes getting my email is like Sigourney Weaver running down the corridor and suddenly finding herself smack in the middle of a whole room full of alien eggs. I'll sit here frozen for minutes, holding my breath as the long list of highlighted unread subject lines all stare at me; I'm too terrified to click anywhere, and my heart pounds. I know that each of those emails contains a beastly, spidery, vicious personal attack. I try to tiptoe away quietly and maybe they won't see me, but if I make the slightest move, the little ping sound stops me cold. So, eventually, each week, I do as I now do for you: I bust out my flamethrower and spray the whole room.

This week's first victim is Richard Freeman from Exeter, England, who made a comment on my episode about orang pendek, an ape species known only to cryptozoologists:

I'm a qualified zoologist and former zookeeper. I've worked with animals all over the world and taken expeditions into poorly explored areas. Twice i have been to Sumatra and interviewed not only native witnesses by Debbie Martyr a western scientis and head of the Indonesian tiger conservation group. She has seen orang-pendek four times in the jungle. It's both easy and spinless to to say eyewitnesses are liars or mistaken from your comfy armchair. Try having enough back bone to go and look for cryptids befor shooting off your big mouth.

Beware the old fallacy that skepticism is not appropriate unless you've personally sampled the pseudoscience. This is the same comment you hear from people selling all manner of snake oil: "Try it before you slam it." Well, Richard, I'm not going to try a coffee enema just to find out whether it gives me super health, and I'm not going to spend a small fortune searching the jungles of Sumatra for an implausible creature, nor am I going to break into Area 51 to see if I can find any aliens. (I already gave the reasons orang pendek is unlikely in the episode, and am not going to repeat them here.)

Richard Freeman is a prominent enough cryptozoologist that he actually has his own Wikipedia page. He is the Zoological Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, a UK nonprofit dedicated to cryptozoology. Orang Pendek is not the only implausible beast he believes in: He's also hunted the Loch Ness Monster, rumored giant snakes in Thailand and Guyana, a Gambian "dragon", the Almas in Russia, something called the Mongolian Deathworm, and a race of pygmies with red faces. How many such creatures has he, or any other cryptozoologist, ever actually discovered? Zero. Well, Richard, here's something else I'm going to say to you from my comfy armchair: There is actually real work to be done in the field of zoology, that benefits animals that really do exist. Try doing some of that. Maybe you can actually have a useful, positive impact on the world.

"Pindar" from Holland, who has contributed all sorts of colorful perspectives to the Skeptoid.com episode comments, seems to have discovered my deep, dark secret:

Study the higher ranks of Freemasonry and you will see what the eye on this website is for as well as the Dragons named on the DVD. They are very telling for who has eyes to see.

He's referring to the "skeptical eye" on the Skeptoid album art, and the dragon logo on my Here Be Dragons video. Evidently he feels that I chose them because I must be a Freemason, and gain some advantage by promoting the symbols. You know, I'm not even going to deny that, Pindar; I'm just going to let you wonder and stew and brood about it, and imagine what conspiracy plots I'm planning against you.

In Freemasonry, the eye represents the all-seeing eye of God, and symbolizes how he's watching over us; so clearly, if you know me at all, this is an idea I'm always trying to promote. The dragon, however, doesn't seem to be a Masonic symbol at all. No dragon symbol appears in any of the encyclopedias of Freemasonry, and none of the half-dozen or so Masons I spoke with have heard of it. But Pindar says you must go to the "higher ranks" of Freemasonry to find it. Like all conspiracy guys, Pindar knows more than the experts. He's probably read on the Internet that the dragon symbolizes eternal power, or that St. George's slaying of the dragon represents the triumph over evil, or that leaders of the American Revolution sometimes met in a Boston pub called the Green Dragon Tavern, which was purchased by a local Freemason lodge for its meeting spaces. Well, Pindar, now we know about you, so you'd better grow eyes on the back of your head.

William from Vancouver, BC had a comment typical of those that continue pouring in on my episode about organic food, the basic point of which was that while there's nothing wrong with so-called organic crops, there's also nothing wrong with conventional crops, despite the ongoing smear campaign by organic proponents.

Read The Omnivore's Dilemma by Micheal Pollan for an unbiased view of the organic versus corporate monopoly grown foods. Brian is basically an uninformed apologist for big agro-business. I would not be surprised if he is pulling a salary from Monsanto or Cargill.

That's right, William, you found out Monsanto's dirty little secret: They found an uninformed apologist, then paid him a salary for two and a half years to have him put out over 150 podcast episodes on wide ranging topics, as a cover, just so they could sneak in one little episode about organic food myths, basically amounting to little more than one blog entry among millions on the web. Hope they got their money's worth. I congratulate you on your detective work.

And that's a fine false dichotomy you state: "organic versus corporate monopoly grown foods". Look up virtually any large organic producer: More often than not, you'll find they're owned by your same "corporate monopolies". Organics are an important market segment; there's hardly a food producer in the world that hasn't gotten on that bandwagon. Indeed, the food companies largely created that market segment. If you're saying stuff like "organic versus corporate monopoly grown foods", you're thinking exactly what the advertising agencies are paid to make you think. Oh, and thank you for introducing me to what "unbiased" means.

Leonard, a chiropractor who is a friend of a friend, offered the following regarding my episode on chiropractic:

The Staten, Lipitor being promoted as reducing heart attack deaths by 50% is one example of crooked science. Two patients per hundred on Lipitor over 31/2 years died and three of the control group died per 100. 2 instead of 3 translates into a 50% number! 25% had side effects using Lipitor. Billions of dollars are spent on Stains world wide... I am sure your critical and sceptical approach could do a much more scientific discussion of this and other medical "Dragons". Otherwise it appears you are on a witch hunt against Chiropractic... How do I get my critical thinking on this subject reviewed to see if I am in error? Evidence does not seem to be scientific proof for medical procedures in my way of thinking.

Tip Skeptoid $2/mo $5/mo $10/mo One time

We had a lengthy email exchange, but this paragraph sums up his position pretty well. He's a nice guy, but he's a denier of modern medicine, and he feels that failings of evidence-based medicine constitute support for chiropractic. That's like saying Person A is in jail, so what does that tell us about Person B? Obviously, nothing at all. Leonard doesn't go around flaunting the magic-based claims of chiropractic's "innate intelligence" energy fields; he just figures it must be true because he sees problems in medical science. Thus, he draws a false dichotomy: If I don't join the ranks of those who deny medical science, I must be on a witchhunt against chiropractic. Well, Leonard, the two don't have anything to do with each other. Certainly medical science is not perfect, but then again, nobody's claiming that it is. Chiropractic is a very different story. It does incorporate some elements of conventional physical therapy, but the rest of it is completely made-up hooey based on a belief in mystical New Age energy fields that cannot be either detected or described.

I find Leonard's closing comment particularly telling: Evidence does not seem to be scientific proof for medical procedures. This is pretty common among alternative practitioners. It's called a "special pleading". It implies that some higher power, not detectable to science, governs the human body and it's thus immune to failures evidenced by scientific testing. A special pleading can be used to defend any supernatural claim. If an appeal to an undetectable higher power is the best evidence they've got, you have good reason to be skeptical.

Leonard also brings up a valid point about the misuse of statistics. The difference in risk between 2% and 3% is not 50%; it's 1%, which is hardly any difference at all. It's easy to shock someone with a big number like "50% greater risk" because the number 3 is 50% higher than the number 2. When you phrase it like that, people hear the 50% part and are terrified, when in fact the risk is 3%. Always be skeptical of the way marketers use statistics.

I always like to end these episodes on a high note. Paul, currently stationed in Sadr City, Iraq, tells the following tale:

I am a soldier currently serving in Iraq and I just wanted to say how much I love your podcast. We don't get regular access to the internet so I take any opportunity I can to snag as many episodes as possible when I can. Sitting in an uncomfortable, hot, stuffy tank all night watching for IED emplacers we will sometimes hook our iPods up to the internal coms to pass the time. We're not supposed to but what can you do? Anyway, I had mine on random and your podcast came up. Not wanting my skepticism to be known amongst my unit, I tried to skip ahead but I dropped the iPod into the bowels of the tank where I had little hope of reaching it. Strangely the other crew members loved it. We listened to a few more episodes before I finally fished my iPod out of the gun turret. From the 24 M1A2 Tank crew from 2nd platoon, Delta Company, 2nd of the 5th Cav, thanks for making that long boring night a little more enjoyable.

Brian Dunning

© 2009 Skeptoid Media, Inc. Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Editors. "The Organic Myth." BusinessWeek.com. BusinessWeek, 16 Oct. 2006. Web. 5 Jan. 2007. <http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/06_42/b4005001.htm>

Evans, I., Thornton, H., Chalmers, I. Testing Treatments: Better Research for Better Healthcare. London: The British Library, 2006.

Franklin, B., Anderson, J. The Constitutions of the Free-Masons. New York: J. W. Leonard and Co., 1855.

Goldacre, B. "Oh, that was quick." Guardian. 21 Nov. 2009, November 21, 2009: 11.

Goldenberg, L. Little People and a Lost World: An Anthropological Mystery. Minneapolis: Twenty-First Century Books, 2007. 112.

Pollan, M. The Omnivore's Dilemma. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Revenge of the Listener Feedback." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, Inc., 12 May 2009. Web. 22 Dec 2014. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4153>

Discuss!

10 most recent comments | Show all 34 comments

"They are a bunch of guys who like to get together, help each other out, perform silly rituals and do charity fundraisers. If these people are keeping you up at night then you need to up your medication."

Our rituals aren't silly. Harumph.

But the rest is right!

Aaron, New York
May 15, 2009 3:33pm

"The video claims the Templars went to Scotland after the Pope banned the order and killed the leaders."

That was King Phillipe "Le Belle" IV of France, not the Pope. Though he did convince Pope Clement (his cousin) to give him the authority to charge them via the civil courts instead ecclesiastical courts. Phillipe primarily wanted their wealth, so he could fund a war on England.

Other countries later got in on the persecution of the Templars (for similar monetary reasons), though Scotland never did. Some Templars may well have fled to Scotland (as some are known to have fled to Swizerland), but the order itself never did.

In some areas, they simply changed their name and identity, becoming the Knights of Christ in Portugal, and (according to some but not all sources) the Knights of the Order of the Garter in England.

Pope Clement officially cleared the Templars of all heresies in 1308, before disbanding the order in 1312, but the documentation was apparently misfiled and only came to light in 2001.

wintermute, Cincinnati
May 28, 2009 4:16am

I'd like to comment on the listener who I think misrepresented the book "Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan.

The book doesn't sing the praises of organics. In fact he does a fine job debunking the myth of industrialized organics that currently are part of the big marketing push.

The book represents the different ways food makes it to our plates. Industrial, Industrial Organic, sustained farming, hunter and gatherer. It is a wonderful book and I think fits the bill for good perspective. In the end he is there to inform and promote sustainable farming. I think Mr. Pollan would have appreciated your comments.

He is about understanding the processes to make your food. In fact he points out a lot of faults and myths of Organics. He does point out the not so pleasant world of industrialize corn and cattle but he also has a steak dinner with a representative from PETA. It is a book worth reading.

Keep up the good work with the podcast.

Tim, Neenah, Wis
May 28, 2009 10:39am

Hey Brian,

Thanks for the effort you put into your podcast. I listen to them all, and mostly enjoy them.

I do want to just wish to clarify the statistical concepts you introduced. I am sure you do understand them but you oversimplified.

3 deaths in a control group vs 2 deaths in the lipitor group IS a 33% relative risk reduction (not 50% thats just bad maths). It is ALSO an absolute risk reduction of 1%. It is not strictly dishonest for the relative risk to be used in adveritising but doctors and consumers need to be wary and be careful about what the statistic quoted means.

A popular statistic for putting these effects in perspective is to calculate a Number Needed to Treat. NNT = 1/Absolute Risk Reduction. So in this example the NNT is 100. This means that 100 people would need to take Lipitor for 3 1/2 years for one of them to have their life saved. You cannot predict which one in advance.

Now is that effective or not - you now have a yardstick to decide against. Some people might be willing to take a drug to reduce their risk of death with an NNT of 100.

Also, the benefit of any risk modifying drug, be it antihypertensive or statin or other depends on the background risk of the population it is offered to.

The quote probably refers to giving statins to normal people or well people with high cholesterol. Giving them to people after they have had a heart attack has a much lower NNT to save a life.

Statistics need careful interpretation

-Dr Ben

Ben Albert, Auckland, New Zealand
May 29, 2009 12:12am

Well said Ben.

And let's not forget the statistical significance factor either. The difference between 2 in 100 and 3 in 100 likely has a low degree of significance. I don't know the error function for determining statistical significance in a human drug trial of that size off the top of my head, but I wouldn't be surprised if the significance of that figure overshadows the result itself.

Patrick, Bellingham, WA
July 14, 2009 4:28pm

Reducing your risk of DEATH WITHIN 3.5 YEARS from 3% to 2% may well be worth it. Death, of course, is the worst outcome, but there may be other more probable outcomes.
Assuming NNT=100, if 10 million people with high cholesterol take Lipitor for 3.5 years, then 100,000 lives are saved. Not bad.

Max, Boston, MA
May 18, 2010 2:52am

but guys... today the pharmacist had a hand written plackard;

Green Coffee beans are here now!
Burns Fat, Reduces cholesterol!

Obviously I have to look at all authority...don't I?

I have actually had to list the statins that were "naturally" produced (its easy, they all are) so a nature girl could let her doctor know which one she was comfortable with. She was buying some ridiculous lipid in a capsule (it must be good, its made in Cuba!).

Man, if I was her endocrinologist I would have laid the law down.

Yes it is a disgrace. Pharmacies here sell witchcraft and doodling for exhorbitant prices so punters can "justifiably" avoid seeing medicos based on false security.

Still the fake teenage drug tests are a red hot item. Think I will ruin the trust relationship I have with my kids today.

I can see my next peaceful Sunday morning ruined when I leave a sign next to a bottle "Daughter dear, pee in this".

Apart from the child protection authorities..

Henk van der Gaast, Sydney
December 8, 2010 9:47pm

Trouble is that a lot of doctors aren't much good either. One tip for people living in poor areas - find an excuse to go to a doctor in a rich one and pay the extra

I had a persistent problem which my local doctors did nothing about so I went to a family doctor used by the rich end of my wife's family in one of Sydney's richest suburbs

I was in hospital within forty eight hours, correctly diagnosed and treated.

One of the greatest medical scams in my opinion is Asperger's Syndrome - which seems to really be a form of autism around which a commercial medical and psychological money making culture has been built

I'd like to see a podcast on it

Phi, Sydney
March 31, 2011 5:21pm

Yes, there truly is no topic that Phi wont hammer to his political views. Aspergers is a "myth", and all medical ills are the fault of the doctors.

After all, what do DOCTORS know about the subject? With their pesky evidence and peer review.

Aspergers is real. The question of it being a distinct condition or a part of the autism spectrum disorder is NOT the same as it being a scam. Claiming it is a scam is NOT the same as proving the current treatment methodology is not effective.

I get the feeling that if Phi gets his wish and sees a podcast on the subject, and Brian stays true to his sceptical norm, Phi may well be dissapointed with the result: No scam. No big "psychology" and "big pharma" corrupting society. Never mind...

TomH, Kent
August 12, 2011 12:24pm

He hasnt mentioned Big Ping Pong Balls and Big Woo.

The cost of big woo to this economy doesnt event capture the garbage promulgated in advertising and claim every day products.

Its natural!

Well what isnt?

Its a pity naturopaths etc do not recognise this.

Henk V, Sydney Australia
September 14, 2011 7:42pm

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