Beyond Listener Feedback

Another trip to the Listener Feedback files, including my favorite yet.

by Brian Dunning

Filed under Feedback & Questions

Skeptoid #205
May 11, 2010
Podcast transcript | Listen | Subscribe

Opening and reading my feedback email can often be compared to the old Maxell ad where the guy sits in his low chair in front of his giant speakers and appears to be hit with the blast from a jet engine. Well I've got my Ray-Bans on, my hair is blown back, and my tie is appropriately fluttering in the air behind me; so let's see what fine, insightful raving lunacy has come my way this week:

Mark from Mundelein, IL took issue with my episode about chiropractic:

Had you REALLY reasearched the topic, you would see chiros have MORE education than MDs. You also omitted any reference to quantum physics which is the science of chiropractic and the subluxation; a science way beyond the comprehension of closed minded MDs whose only course of action is to dumb us up with drugs.

I'll agree that Mark does seem to be evidence that some people have been dumbed up with drugs, but I doubt his were prescribed by an MD. I think it's time that we establish the "appeal to quantum physics" as its own official logical fallacy. By Mark's description, it is a "science beyond comprehension", at least to everyone except chiropractors, well known as leading quantum physicists.

The appeal to quantum physics is a sort of "fill in the blanks" explanation for anything you want to promote that's not otherwise supported by science. The core fundamental of chiropractic is a supposed "energy field" that they call "innate intelligence". It's not detectable and has no describable properties, but chiropractic teaches that it flows through your spine and diseases are caused by blockages that can be corrected through the spinal equivalent of knuckle cracking. Although this is not supported by any plausible science, this is the first time I've heard someone wheel out the appeal to quantum physics to explain it. Kudos to Mark for breaking new ground.

Quantum physics is actually a real science, but sadly it has nothing to do with magical energy fields flowing through your body.

Gregory from Alabama came to my rescue a little bit on my episode about the importance of understanding your opponent's point of view, which in an effort to attract attention, I titled "Sarah Palin Is Not Stupid". To my chagrin, it seems that the title overpowered the content. Many people interpreted it as a defense of Sarah Palin, which in fact had nothing whatsoever to do with the episode. Gregory said:

It's rather depressing to see so many people rant about the low intelligence of Sarah Palin and others, while at the same time demonstrating deplorable reading comprehension skills.

Spot on, Greg, thank you. Probably 90% of the feedback I got on that episode was "No, you're wrong, Sarah Palin really is stupid, and here's an example." That's one of my favorite episodes, and I think it made one of my strongest points ever. If you really think it was about Sarah Palin's intellect, then the next time I'm going to put your name in the title. Listen to it again, and this time leave your desire to turn it into a political debate outside.

Here's a good example of understanding someone's point of view. This comes from Jack in Oklahoma City. Jack is a Christian, and unfortunately, many skeptics I know automatically react "Oh, therefore he's a moron." Let's try listening to what he had to say on my episode about science debating pseudoscience, which raised the Young Earth question:

As a Christian, I am saddened by those who try to "prove" what is ultimately a matter of faith. Instead of twisting oneself into a pretzel trying to reconcile the Bible with the physical reality of the world, it is far better to acknowledge that God did not clear up all those pesky ambiguities... To believe the Earth is only 6,000 (or whatever) years old is to believe that God and His natural laws are capricious. I refuse to believe that God plays a gotcha game with us.

Jack recognizes that religion exists outside of science and that attempts to blend the two are doomed to failure. I have no problem at all with people who want to have whatever religious belief they want, when they keep it compartmentalized for what it is and don't try to shoehorn new versions of sciences to support it. What Jack describes is an all-too-rare ability to understand the world as it really is. Whether you agree with his religion or not, he's an ally of science.

By the way, Sarah Palin could probably benefit from a conversation with Jack.

Brock from Long Beach, CA vomited forth the following spew on my episode about vaccine ingredients:

This is the worst group of skeptics ever. You take everything our government or the establishment says at face value. They love us and would never do anything to endanger us. Just change the name of this site to debunking the skeptics, because you're never critical of the government or the corporations that rule them. Instead, you only tote the party line under the guise of being skeptics.

Name the logical fallacy... [drum roll...] the excluded middle! This is a very common argument among people who don't understand logic: You're not all the way over on my conspiracy-mongering end of the spectrum, therefore you are a raving lunatic who is way off the other end of the spectrum. This argument is a complete waste of breath, as it is not only logically invalid, it doesn't say a single thing to advance his implied point that vaccines are dangerous.

Not only that, his whole premise is a non-sequitur. He believes the government is corrupt, therefore vaccines are dangerous. Those are two unrelated questions. There might be a correlation, and a corrupt regulatory body might indeed be a good reason to more thoroughly examine the safety of vaccines; but the question of vaccine safety is answered by testing them, not by investigating government corruption. All testing has failed to show that vaccines carry more harm than good, so Brock is forced to turn to non-sequiturs to try and sway others to his point of view.

Martin from Liverpool, a sufferer of chronic fatigue syndrome, took issue with my comment in the mercury fillings episode that the causes are well understood and have nothing to do with heavy metal poisoning:

Really? I wish I'd known during the last 4 yrs of illness. It's only following the removal of my amalgam, followed by chelation therapy, that I have begun to improve, and quite markedly, too.

The symptoms and treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome are identical to those for stress, so most doctors who treat it classify it as a psychogenic condition, which is best treated with psychotherapy to address the causes of stress. The primary difficulty of this is that when you tell this diagnosis to most sufferers, they hear instead "You're crazy and you're imagining it," which is, of course, not what was said at all. Stress is real, its causes are real, and the physical symptoms it can create are real, sometimes extremely traumatic, and even dangerous.

We know that amalgam fillings can't and don't compete with normal environmental levels of mercury, and are not dangerous. We know that chelation therapy is only indicated for acute heavy metal poisoning, and is not effective enough to reduce normal environmental levels. So Martin's own self-diagnosis and treatment were implausible. How, then, did he manage to feel better? I can't know, of course, not being a doctor and not knowing anything about his case history, but I can speculate since his report is very much in line with those of other sufferers of other psychogenic conditions. His perception that he was doing something useful was probably sufficient to relieve his stress, to the point that its symptoms were reduced. It's great that he found some relief, but we would never recommend his course of action to others for two reasons. First, the process of removing amalgam fillings can actually introduce high levels of mercury into your body; and second, the side effects of chelation therapy, most notably liver damage, carry far too much risk.

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And now for today's final email. I usually edit down feedback emails to just the best parts for brevity's sake, but here's one that I've decided to include in its entirety. It's just too epic, and any reduction of its length would reduce its epic character. It comes from Conrado in Spain, and was sent to me as a cc on an email to the Podfeed podcast review website. It was also cc'd to the editors of Scientific American magazine:

This is to object to your review of Brian Dunning's Skeptoid podcast, which describes it as "banned from the world of mainstream pseudoscience". Such a review is eye-catching, powerful and clever, but it is based on a malicious reversal of reality. I am right now preparing a reply to one of Mr. Dunning's "debunking" exercises.

"Pseudoscience" is a 90%-manipulation-filled word. It presupposes that "science" as sold to us by, say, Scientific American, is the truth and that anything outside it must by definition be bunkum and hogwash. In reality "science" and "the scientific method" are a myth. "Science" and the "scientific method" are really a way for the old boys clubs and self-styled alpha males to exercise their domination by denying to the masses information that would expand their sense of what is possible and hence empower them. Such denied information is thus ridiculed as "pseudoscience". I very much suspect that the editors of Scientific American know full well that free energy, anti-gravity, faster than light travel, Illuminati rituals, psychic phenomena and UFO visitations are real; they are just paid handsomely by the intelligence-military complex to keep those matters off the cultural radar screen and permanently in the giggle terrain. It is all psychological warfare. I do not "believe" this. I KNOW this. Do you want to discuss epistemology with me? Fine, bring along Michael Shermer, James Randi, Susan Blackmore and Paul Kurtz; but make sure to also bring Steven Greer, Brian O'Leary, David Icke, Michael Roll, Michael Salla, Richard Dolan, Hal Puthoff and many others, and that those in this latter group are given at least equal air time, and that the discussion takes place in Congress and before CNN cameras. Let's get it on.

As enticing as that invitation is, I can think of other people I'd rather "get it on" with.

Brian Dunning

© 2010 Skeptoid Media Copyright information

References & Further Reading

Bell, D. The Doctor's Guide to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 1995. 7-21.

CDC. "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)." CDC. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 Jul. 2010. Web. 30 Jul. 2010. <>

Herriot, E. "Life Changing Chiropractic." Yoga Journal. 30 Sep. 1990, Issue 94: 23-24.

Morgan, Lon. "Innate intelligence: its origins and problems." The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association. 1 Jan. 1998, Volume 42, Issue 1: 35-41.

Morse,G., Skerrett,P.J. "Chelation Therapy." Intelihealth. Aetna InteliHealth, Inc, 30 Apr. 2008. Web. 22 Sep. 2010. <>

Zhou W., Pool V., Iskander J. "Surveillance for Safety After Immunization: Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) - United States, 1991-2001." MMWR. 24 Jan. 2003, Volume 52, Number SS-1: 1-24.

Reference this article:
Dunning, B. "Beyond Listener Feedback." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media, 11 May 2010. Web. 8 Oct 2015. <>


10 most recent comments | Show all 70 comments

Gregory seems to think logic and reason requires us to consider every indefensible position regarding the supernatural and metaphysical world and prepare a counter argument before a claim has been made. Dawkins covered everything when he wrote that a world with a god would have to be fundamentally different than a world with one. The existence of god is a scientific question.

Sean Webb, Hamilton, Ontario
June 8, 2010 12:55pm

"Gregory seems to think logic and reason requires us to consider every indefensible position regarding the supernatural and metaphysical world and prepare a counter argument before a claim has been made."

No. I said come up with what unites them (other than the whole "not being real" thing) and argue against that. We classify a certain hypothesized class of beings as gods. What traits do they share? What commonalities do they have? Dawkins' arguments cover are good, but stopping there would be like not studying biochemistry because animal husbandry already answered the question of evolution.

Gregory, Alabama
June 8, 2010 3:04pm

"Concepts are hierarchical. Once you disprove the concept of gods in general, you don't need to disprove each individual god."

Gregory: I'm not sure how many gods I'd want you to disprove but there is a tendency I notice among skeptics to believe that they have got a hierarchy right and managed to disprove an entire category with general reasoning.

For example, man-powered flight is impossible therefore we have no reason to investigate the Wright Brothers' latest contraption.

Or my personal interest in subliminal advertising which is consistently dismissed by skeptics in general terms without examining specific evidence.


Reality is vast, deep, and complex. Human beings are limited and fallible.

It's time-consuming to investigate a broad range of claims, much less all of them, but sometimes to do justice to reality that's what must be done.

On the other hand, unless we make generalizations and dismiss many possibilities, practically speaking we can't function.

There is no ideal answer to this dilemma.

We are as humans; we might as well be humble about it.

jack, San Francisco
June 8, 2010 11:22pm

"For example, man-powered flight is impossible therefore we have no reason to investigate the Wright Brothers' latest contraption."

This is not an example of what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is more along the lines of realizing that birds, bats, and bees all fly, and they all fly differently. The higher concept is arodynamics--the thing that unites all of them and makes them all possible. Once you have a grasp of that, you can extend that knowledge to building a flying machine.

Or, with subliminal advertising, you have to look at how advertising actually works. The concepts in the individual ads are under the over-arching concept of "psychology". IF psychology can include subliminal advertising, we can accept sublim. advertising as a valid concept. If not, we can dismiss it.

*We are as humans; we might as well be humble about it. *

There is only one view of humanity in which this comment would make sense. That view is one I passionately reject.

Gregory, Alabama
June 9, 2010 4:56pm

Repeating the same point does not eliminate the logical fallacies in your statements.

Sean Webb, Hamilton, Ontario
June 9, 2010 6:18pm

"Repeating the same point does not eliminate the logical fallacies in your statements."

Considering you've never addressed my points, I figured restating them may be pertinent.

You think I'm saying "Think of all gods, and refute all of them individually". What I'm saying is "Figure out what the concept of 'gods' includes, and invalidate the whole concept". I suppose they sound similar, but they're really two entirely different tactics.

Gregory, Alabama
June 10, 2010 4:58pm

You stated "The symptoms and treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome are identical to those for stress."

You are laboring under a misapprehension. "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome" and chronic fatigue are not the same thing. All the words matter - think of the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug.

From the CDC website:

"Chronic fatigue syndrome, or CFS, is a devastating and complex disorder characterized by overwhelming fatigue that is not improved by bed rest and that may be worsened by physical or mental activity."

Stress, on the other hand, is generally relieved by rest and an appropriate activity.

There is no current effective treatment and certainly no cure for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

The "psychiatric school" in the UK - those who claim that CFS is psychogenic - appear to have strong affiliations with the health insurance industry - shades of Wakefield and the vaccine scare?

On the other hand, Anthony Komaroff, of the Harvard Medical school, has said about CFS "...there is now abundant evidence of measurable abnormalities in the central nervous system and the autonomic nervous system in people with this illness. That makes it neurological."

As the illness is often devastating, and there is no cure, many sufferers turn to "alternative" treatments in a desperate attempt to seek relief. They deserve your support to help them avoid being ripped off, rather than your scorn.

Roberta G, Wellington, NZ
August 15, 2010 9:47pm

Absolutely Roberta and thankyou for stating it so clearly.

One more recent phase of attacking CFS sufferers with misinformation came when it was recognised that many GWS sufferers came so close in symptomology to CFS sufferers, that without the chemical exposure etc, CFS was practically an alternate diagnosis.

To deride GWS and CFS came to be a target for a while of Veterans Affairs, using its full resources, including the main hospital facility in San Diego. The aim was clearly to avoid compensation and health care costs

CFS specialists prepared to diagnose outside the CDC guidelines were recruited to add to a body of false study and incorrect conclusion that included clinically depressed patients in CFS sample studies. This is where the crap that CFS was caused by stress and depression came from - In CDC terms the samples and studies were rigged, and the GWS deniers endorsed their false studies

CFS support societies are still recovering from the burden caused by misdiagnosis. Many diagnosed patients are indeed NOT CDC guidelines (Fukuda et al 1994) diagnosed patients but patients diagnosed by the woolly headed Oxford Criteria etc

CFS is indeed a cluster of genuine diseases, properly conducted research long ago recognised that but the misinformation remains in respected text books on virology and other disciplines.

It has been a nasty battle and a scandal getting CFS recognised. I have yet to meet a properly diagnosed patient who has recovered. Many live in misery.

Phi, Sydney
March 23, 2011 8:17pm

I think Phi should post the criteria correctly.

Having lived with a CFS patient and one who has gone on to live a normal life, I am wondering whether wild accusations such as this are fair.

I canr be the only person in the world to have witnessed this.

Henk v, sin city NSW, Oz
August 12, 2011 4:04am

The research case definition, Fukuda et al 1994, can be viewed on the following webpage Henk:

It is worth noting that two of the signatories were in fact prime movers in subverting it with studies that did not adhere to its provisions.

The crucial point comes under the heading "Conditions that Exclude Diagnosis of CFS" these include:

"Any past or current diagnosis of... major depressive disorder with psychotic or melancholic features"

In addition the criteria establishing team wrote in 1994 (Annals of internal Medine December 15):

"Diagnosis of the chronic fatigue syndrome can be made only after alternate medical and psychiatric causes of chronic fatiguing illness have been excluded." Of course chronic fatigue is a common symptom in depression of any kind

I note that Henk writes from Australia. Three of the major cases that formed the Australian popular view of CFS were later found to be misdiagnoses. As to my own experience it would appear to go back sone fifty four years according to major physicians in the area - I would certainly date it as being more than 35 myself.

I would certainly question the criteria applied and the methodology used in any apparent cure. Spontaneous remission is never in my experience absolute, and recurrence is normal. But it gets better in many people

Phil, Sydney
December 19, 2014 9:08pm

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