More Wet and Wild Listener Feedback
by Brian Dunning
Filed under Feedback & Questions
October 2, 2007
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It's been another 35 episodes or so since we did this last time, and it's time again to check in with some of the listener feedback I've received. I guess I'm just not getting through to some people. Maybe it's because those people don't base their beliefs upon rational understanding of the facts. Gee, can you imagine that? What a world that would be, where people actually clung to irrational beliefs!
Case in point, some of those who replied to my episode on the Phoenix Lights, an event in which all the photographic evidence was absolutely consistent with the flares that are known to have been dropped. An anonymous listener made a point about logic:
This is just a piece of junk!!! Just because no human has actually made [it] to another planet to get proof doesn't mean that there's no such thing as aliens! I know we have those robots and all to investigate but those things aren't technological[ly advanced] at all compared to the inventions of these extra terrestrial creatures you mistakenly call flares!
Yes, Mr. Anonymous, you are correct. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Nobody ever said it was, certainly not I. But absence of evidence is absence of evidence, and that's a poor foundation on which to base a claim as extraordinary as alien visitation. My explanation is supported by hard evidence from beginning to end, including every photo and video taken that night, and when yours is too, I'll be only too happy to give it another look.
A listener from San Diego, California wrote:
My friend worked at the AFB base in that area. He didn't see anything but he was in Vegas that day. Yes I believe the community before the others' disbelief...
Well, that's compelling: Your friend was out of town and so didn't see anything. Case closed. Maybe others you know did see the lights, and you believe their stories. I believe their stories too, because there is substantial evidence for what they saw. Until enough of that evidence was brought forward, nobody really had any way to identify the event in the sky, so we all had crazy ideas of what it might be. The decision you've made is to support those who have made a conclusion that is contrary to the evidence, and to reject those whose conclusions are consistent with the evidence. Is that really the best way to approach the situation?
I got tons of crap for my episode on chiropractic. I think the biggest problem here is that more chiropractors are performing physical therapy, which is effective when properly administered, but it's not chiropractic. This leads patients to conclude that chiropractic is effective, when in fact they did not receive chiropractic treatment. Note that it's illegal for chiropractors to give physical therapy unless they are trained and separately licensed to do so. Here's a fair sample of the feedback I received, from San Antonio, Texas:
I visited a chiropractor after a car accident with some back/shoulder pain. I felt great after each visit, and after a few visits, the pain was gone altogether.
A perfect example of confirmation bias resulting from an uncontrolled test. Much of the other flak I received was in the form of conventional anticorporatism, embracing chiropractic only because it can't prescribe drugs which might put profits into the pockets of Big Pharma, as if this alarm about science-based medicine means that there is anything useful about chiropractic's magic-based fundamentals. From Fredericksburg, Virginia:
When I look at the current medical system, I see prescription drug companies sending lobbyists and representatives to congress and to doctors' own offices. I see doctors over prescribing medication and possibly causing epidemics of influenza which we have no control over except to buy more medicine from the crooks who started it all.
And from a chiropractor in Columbus, Ohio:
It is country of free choice and drugs are not a choice of most of my patients. Considering 100,000 visit hospitals [sic] from the side effects of NSAIDS and 20,000 die each year. Anywhere from 160,000-300,000 are KILLED in the hospital each year due to mistakes.
300,000 killed each year. Wow! Genocide on that scale is going to be all over CNN. I better go sit in front of the TV and catch this report, I'm sure it's coming any minute. But wait, this comment's from last May. Well, maybe CNN is still struggling to collate the vast evidence.
One episode dealt with the demonstrably bogus history set forth in the Book of Mormon. Criticism of that episode came, predictably, from Mormons. Here's a comment from a listener in High Point, North Carolina:
Although some Mormons may still believe that all American Indians were descended from Lehi, the Book of Mormon doesn't actually state that. The DNA research "disproving" the Book of Mormon starts with that assumption. This is a classic straw man argument: Claim that the text states something that it doesn't; and then disprove the claim. The mitochondrial DNA studies referenced cannot show whether a small group (under 30 people) were inserted into a Native American population that probably numbered in the millions.
A valiant effort, listener, but you're quite wrong about that. The latest molecular genetics studies indicate that the Amerindian founding population could have been as small as 70 individuals who crossed the Bering land bridge some 12,000 to 17,000 years ago and whose descendants migrated to the tip of South America as recently as 11,000 years ago. We would know if a small group from Europe had migrated in, and especially if they were the forebears of the Nephites and Lamanites. Although the church has stated in recent years "Nothing in the Book of Mormon precludes migration into the Americas by peoples of Asiatic origin," the highest authority — the prophet himself, in fact every prophet from Joseph Smith to the current one, Gordon B. Hinckley — has proclaimed in clear black and white non-negotiable language that Lehi's family group was the sole founding population of the American continent. This is absolutely impossible according to any reasonable interpretation of the genetic evidence. Rather than correcting me, you should be working internally and correcting your own prophet.
My episode on The Importance of Teaching Critical Thinking was very well received by all but the most fervent believers in the paranormal. One anonymous listener wrote the following:
I look forward to you doing some skeptical analysis on mainstream science to reciprocate your great commentary on the left-field work, otherwise I will become skeptical about your motivation as it may appear you are not thinking skeptically at all but are merely a mouthpiece for your paymasters and their agenda.
The people who use the tired old logic of "being skeptical of the skeptics", or who reference my corporate paymasters, are always the ones who write in anonymously. Curious. I'm still waiting for that check, by the way; when you locate my corporate paymasters, please get me the number of Accounts Payable.
It's time to be skeptical of mainstream science, or to be skeptical of the skeptics. Let's translate that into what it really means. Skepticism is the process of requiring a higher standard of evidence. So this listener, and his ilk, are criticizing me for not requiring a higher standard of evidence from those who require a higher standard of evidence. Well, that's a very logical and thoughtful suggestion. Thank you, but I think I'll reserve my skepticism for those subjects where evidence is being ignored, not where it's already being required.
My episode about the claim that George Bush is actually one of a shape-shifting race of reptilian beings controlling the Earth got some interesting feedback. Here's one from a listener who gave her location only as Weathertop Farm:
I'm so happy to have people to tell me what and who to believe without having to think for myself...it makes me feel superior and confident to boldly dismiss the ideas of others out of hand. because i would not want to accept something on the basis of no proof....wait a minute...you do have the ability to verify what YOU claim don't you?
Ah yes, the logical fallacy that the burden of proof should not be on those making wild claims; the wild claims should be accepted at face value and it's up to those hearing the claim to disprove it. Neither science nor logic can prove a negative, so I guess we're all forced to accept the fact that Reptoids are controlling the world. And the undisputable reality of the Loch Ness Monster, and Zeus and Neptune, and Shiva, and psychic powers, and extra-terrestrial UFO's, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and anything else that anyone wants to invent.
The episode on global warming was quite popular, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback. My only point was that it's impossible to know how much we need to do or how much we can afford to do to reduce global temperatures, since nobody knows how much a given reduction in carbon dioxide emissions will reduce temperatures, if at all. That's not to say that we should do nothing; far from it. The danger we face is the risk from doing nothing while we wait for an answer that has thus far proven intractable. Releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is bad no matter what and should ideally be stopped, but that doesn't mean we should replace everyone's car with a Prius at a cost that exceeds the GNP of most countries to achieve a completely unknowable result. Since I wasn't particularly inflammatory, I didn't get a lot of dissent but there were still some good comments.
A listener from Amherst, Massachusetts wrote:
I'm angered and saddened by how the whole discipline of climatology seems to have been poisoned by politics. Nowadays the only thing one can truly tell from a climate paper is who the authors voted for in 2000. The truth seems to be, well, inconvenient and therefore ignored. This is true of both sides.
A listener from York, UK said the following:
Whether the oceans are going to rise 1 cm or 5 cm over the next century do you really need to drive a SUV? Or subscribe to a glossy magazine that you barely read? Or have the temperature in your house at 73 degrees?
I think his comment is naïve, because the answer is yes, people do demand to have those things. Telling people to change their behavior and adopt a less comfortable lifestyle is like expecting factories to switch to a less profitable and less polluting method out of the goodness of their hearts. This is a strategy that will fail.
No listener feedback episode would be complete without a visit from the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. On my episode about fire melting steel, the conspiracy banner was held by yet another anonymous poster who calls himself "truth01". It has been suggested that so many conspiracy guys refuse to give their real names because they honestly fear retaliation by government agents. Truth01 gives a fair recap of most of the usual 9/11 conspiracy talking points, such as the twin towers fell at a speed that's impossibly fast, presumably accusing the Bush administration of affixing rocket engines to the top of the buildings to force them down faster. No less than eight times, truth01 asked if anyone had the courage to answer the simple questions he had asked, but in fact he never clearly articulated any questions, prompting several people to ask what questions he was talking about. Anyway it's the usual stuff, if you're interested it makes an entertaining read, just go to the Fire Melting Steel online transcript on Skeptoid.com.
The episode about vaccinations causing autism drew ire as I knew it would. The supposition is that autism is caused by mercury poisoning (in fact no such link has ever been found), that mercury comes from thimerosal (in fact thimerosal contains ethylmercury, which is quickly discharged from the body, not methylmercury, which does stay in the body but is not contained in thimerosal), and that thimerosal is used in vaccinations (thimerosal has not been an ingredient in childhood vaccinations for more than a decade). It's a supposition based on a lengthy chain, every single link of which is broken. But that does not sway the believers who insist that vaccination against disease costs more lives than it saves. One listener from Crawfordsville, Indiana, wrote:
Would you be so kind to cite your factual statements (e.g. "Vaccinations save more lives worldwide than any other medical advance in history") ... On the other hand, if I'm alone in this request, maybe you need to do an episode on the importance of being skeptical of even skeptics...
By Brian Dunning
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Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "More Wet and Wild Listener Feedback." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
2 Oct 2007. Web.
28 Nov 2015. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4068>
References & Further Reading
Busko, Marlene. "Autism Continued to Increase Subsequent to Thimerosal Removal." Medscape. WebMD, 11 Jan. 2008. Web. 17 Nov. 2009. <http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/568674>
Henderson, Donald A. "The Miracle of Vaccination." Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. 1 Jul. 1997, Volume 51, Number 2: 235-245.
Kohn, L., Corrigan, J., Donaldson, M. To err is human: building a safer health system. Washington DC: National Academy Press, 2000. 31.
Morrison, D. "UFOs and Aliens in Space." Skeptical Inquirer. 1 Jan. 2009, Volume 33, Number 1: 30-31.
Pohl, Rudiger. Cognitive Illusions: A Handbook on Fallacies and Biases in Thinking, Judgement and Memory. New York: Psychology Press, 2004.
Wallace DC, Torroni A. "American Indian prehistory as written in the mitochondrial DNA: a review." Human Biology. 1 Jun. 1992, Volume 64, Number 3: 403-16.
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