It hasn't been that long, but already I'm collecting a pile of listener feedback that's too good to ignore. I want to start by diving straight into one that's a perfect example of the straw man argument.
As you recall, a straw man argument is when the arguer creates an exaggerated caricature of his opponent's statements, reframing them into something he didn't say and is a horrible argument that falls apart by itself. People, if you want to take issue with anything I say, great. I invite it. But if you want to take issue with straw man arguments that I didn't say, I'm going to throw it right back in your face. Recently we talked about the Stanford Prison Experiment, and I pointed out a number of concerns that other researchers have expressed about Philip Zimbardo's methods and conclusions. This must have hit Chris from New Zealand pretty hard, because he responded by attacking an imaginary position that I never even remotely alluded to, and don't remotely agree with:
Sorry Brian but I thought this was a particularly poor episode. Was it your intention to argue that people are not a product of their environment? Or perhaps that poor African Americans are genetically programmed to commit crime on a larger scale than their rich white counterparts? At the end of the episode, you drew an implicit false dichotomy, where either people can be a product of their society, or they can be responsible for their own actions, as if there is no grey area. Trying to argue that peoples' actions cannot be influenced by their environment in a very real and very shocking way is a tough line to tow - Nazi Germany taught us a lot about what people are capable of, if fed the right propaganda in the right circumstances.
Chris, I suggest doing your own podcast, because listening to someone else's is clearly not your strength. Most reasonable people agree that nature and nurture are both factors in behavior. I think so, and Zimbardo thinks so too. I wish I knew what you thought. Next time, try expressing some thoughts of your own, instead of making straw men out of mine.
It's no surprise that the Young Earth Creationism debate continues going nowhere fast. Here's a fair sample of high-quality information from Ryan from Williamston, MI:
Fact: Carbon dating cannot be proven to provide the proper age of a rock.
Fact: Anybody can make a fossil with water and a microwave (Hello sun?)
Fact: Fence posts have been dug up that are petrified in a few years.
Fact: Babies are sqeezed [sic] throught [sic] the birth canal of all animals to expel the embryonic fluid from the lungs. You did go to high school right?
Fact: You saw with your own 2 eyes that we "evolved" from a rock millions of years ago?
Those are some fine facts, Ryan. I'd address them but I really don't know where to start. I think I'll let the folks on the Skeptalk email discussion list handle this one.
Initials JNC from Charlotte, NC took issue with my recommendation to ask a medical doctor about vitamin supplementation in the episode about vitamin C megadosing:
Both [of my doctors] strongly recommended vitamins and fish oil. The primary care Doc gave me a link to [his] website to order them. The surgeon sold monthly packs of a mix "he designed" which cost ~$65 US per month, and if you get a year's supply, ~$50 per month.
I guess my point is that if some MDs are "supplementing" their income with vitamins, they may not be unbiased.
This is very true. Medical doctors are as human as anyone else and a few of them do throw their ethics to the wind and sell quack remedies on the side. This is why I was so explicit in the episode when I said to be sure not to ask someone who's in the business of selling these products. And while we're on the subject of medical quackery, I received a fairly typical email from initials EK in Seattle, WA who has, like most people, had a positive experience with his chiropractor. He said:
I do agree that a lot of the metaphysical junk some chiropractors share with their clients is utter bunk, and I can't say I have seen any reason to believe that regular spinal adjustments can improve my digestive health, nor that vertebra number XX directly corresponds to the health of my genitals (as the poster in one chiropractor's office tells me). However, I can say I've found no finer solution for back or neck pain than a chiropractor! ...When plagued by back or neck pain, nothing gets me feeling well faster than a visit to one of them.
Like I said, when chiropractors give useful back pain treatment, they're simply performing conventional (albeit unlicensed) physical therapy. If it's working for you, I suggest going to a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) and getting the same treatment legally from a licensed & trained professional, rather than from someone who learned anatomy at a magic school. If you're going to call yourself a chiropractor, give chiropractic treatment. If you want to give useful physical therapy instead, great, but don't call it chiropractic because that's not what chiropractic is.
Mike from Brisbane, Australia chimed in with the doomsayer's perspective on the episode about peak oil production:
Peak oil is going to teach the ignorant a harsh lesson! I cannot believe that our modern society with all of our knowledge can think we can continue to consume and destroy our planet without repercussions? Even if Peak Oil didnt [sic] collapse modern society as I know it will, another finite resource will. Maybe if more polititions [sic] had a science background they would see that we live on an agar plate (earth) and we are behaving just like bacteria, consuming and multiplying with impunity. Wake up sheeple, then again dont [sic] worry keep sleeping, its too late in the game anyway!!
It's nice that we have one person on Earth who's not a "sheeple" and who's qualified to berate the rest of us. A round of applause for Mike, the only person smart enough and courageous enough to dare to point out that the earth is a single finite petri dish (already partially eaten), and not an ecosystem.
The episode debunking quack detoxification myths became the new all-time feedback winner, burying me under pit toilets and outhouses full of excreted toxic bullcrap. Nearly all of it followed the same familiar themes: That medical care is more expensive than alternative care, and that buying clunky hardware and untested drugs is a natural alternative to letting your kidneys and liver simply do their job. Sr. Lopez from Kansas advocates that price is a better decision maker than efficacy:
I'm not sure if you've looked at how much money doctors charge, but it is not a practical amount to pay without the aid of insurance. Some of us have to rely on "natural cures" and hope that they are not ripping us off.
Raylyn from the USA also agrees that the wisest choice for people who cannot afford conventional healthcare is to give what little money they do have to practitioners selling useless alternative snake-oil:
Unfortunately, not everyone has medical insurance or the money to pay for medical treatment. Most of us who use alternative medicines are the ones stuck out in the cold by our own country that has outpriced medical care. Most of us suffer through our medical issues and try to survive. I'd like to know the precentage of deaths in this country from major catastrophic illnesses that are the poor in this country.
Carla from Atlanta, GA feels that only practitioners who agree with her self-diagnosis are following proper science:
I was miserable and medical doctors trained in the best schools ... claimed nothing was wrong until, one day I fell so ill that I was hospitalized. All of the sudden [sic], I was diagnosed by one of them with what I had claimed was wrong all along. A natural practitioner finally got me back on my feet and I've never felt better. Thus, it is fair to say that the medical practices of textbook medicine are flawed.
Leslie, also from Atlanta, defends detoxification products, but rather than giving any information that supports them, instead she only makes conspiratorial, anticorporate attacks against Big Pharma:
Has Western medicine brainwashed you this much? How about the greedy, money hungry drug companies? They are making money off you, advertising their pills on TV and telling us to "ask our dr. if so and so is right for you", without even telling us what the drug is for! Drugs are the second biggest business in the U.S., brainwashing Americans that they will make their lives better, when in fact the side effects are much more numerous than the benefits of any of the meds. Maybe you should be skeptical about that harsh reality...
That's a relief; I was worried we'd go a full episode without anyone cornering me and charging that I need to be skeptical of the skeptics. Kristin from Texas follows the same pattern as Leslie, mistaking her own conspiracy theories and hostility toward medical doctors as support for detoxification:
What medical doctors will do that a naturopathic doctor wont [sic] is spend 5 minutes with you, and prescribe something for your symptoms that they are being paid by a drug company to use, without considering anything about your mental health, fitness, lifestyle, and the body's power to heal itself. And then, you come back into their office with a "new sickness" which is really just side effects of that drug they gave you, so they give you a new medication to treat the side effects of the other side effects.... its [sic] a never ending cylce [sic]. Medications are dangerous chemicals.
Good point, Kristin. An untested, unapproved, unregulated detoxification drug is a much safer chemical than one that is tested, approved, and regulated. Well argued.
Let's close with a final example of failing to put in sufficient intellectual effort before sending in feedback. Jaime from Manila observed that on the Skeptoid.com comment form, I advise people to read with skepticism the comments from anyone who does not give their name. If you're not willing to stand behind your remarks, I'm not too eager to listen to them. Jaime wrote:
As you suggested, I read with skepticism "The Detoxification Myth" because the writer was "too lame to put his real name and city." His signature is meaningless because it cannot be read with no name clearly printed underneath.
Please practise what you preach.
Has Jaime found out my dirty little secret, that I keep my identity hidden? You've got to work pretty damn hard to spend any time on Skeptoid.com and not find my name blitzed everywhere.
You're listening to Skeptoid. I'm Brian Dunning (and I'm in the phone book, Jaime), and my picture and bio are on Skeptoid.com.
Brannigan, A. The Rise and Fall of Social Psychology: The Use and Misuse of the Experimental Method. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 2004. 37-39.
Dalrymple, G.B. "Radiometeric Dating Does Work!" Reports of the National Center for Science Education. 1 May 2000, Volume 20, Number 3: 14-19.
Goldacre, B. Bad Science. London: Harper Perennial, 2009.
Singh, S., Ernst, E. Trick or treatment: the undeniable facts about alternative medicine. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008. 226-227,308.
Tinker, Scott. "Of peaks and valleys: Doomsday energy scenarios burn away under scrutiny." News Releases and Features. Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas, 25 Jun. 2005. Web. 16 Dec. 2009. <http://www.jsg.utexas.edu/news/rels/062505a.html>