So I was skipping along merrily down the lane today, when suddenly I felt the urge to have the weight of the world descend upon my shoulders and crush me into oblivion. So I contrived to check Skeptoid's listener feedback. Mission accomplished.
The courageously anonymous Zoot from Youngstown, OH was displeased with my episode about the Pacific Garbage Patch, in which I showed how horribly exaggerated are the popular stories telling of a solid island of trash the size of Texas in the middle of the ocean:
This is why humankind deserves to be culled. Especially the author of this article. Humankind will pay for years of viral destruction on this earth and I hope its a gruesome and horrid end.
Humans should all be killed for having trash, and I especially should be killed for urging cooler heads to prevail with regards to the myths about the Garbage Patch. Zoot, I invite you to send me this message personally, in writing, with your name and address (the District Attorney would love it). I'm happy to send you anything I have to say on the matter, with my name attached, because I believe in what I say and I stand behind it. Do you?
Probably Zoot is just a kid, but there are people who really feel this way. Doing Skeptoid gives me the opportunity to converse with a lot of people, and there is absolutely a contingent of people who call themselves environmentalists, but really they're just anti-human. Creating trash is just the excuse of the day for hating their species. I'm really interested in new technologies that reduce waste, improve efficiency, and give us better standards of living with less collateral damage; but it's because I love people and love living on Earth, and I want to make it better. Zoot proposes a slightly darker solution, and the reason seems to be that Zoot, and the anti-human so-called environmentalists of his ilk, hate people and hate living on Earth. Zoot, seek professional help, or fulfill your dreams by jumping into a volcano. It doesn't leave any offensive mess.
Peter J. Mota from Torrance, CA has one leg up on Zoot, because he at least gives his name. Not only that, he gives us a window into his intelligence level with his comment:
i'll keep it brief,your full of shit,get a life.get a job at burger king.could not submit,coward.proves your a nut case.
There's some fine spelling and punctuation in there. This was the entirety of his comment about Kangen water, the multilevel marketing program that sells absurdly overpriced water filters with all sorts of implausible health claims. Nearly all the people who commented on this episode were people who had been suckered into the program and were parroting the health claims in a desperate bid to recover their foolish investments. I have to assume Peter J. Mota is doing the same thing, just less artfully. I've never bought anything yet based on a string of of crudely strung together profanities and insults; but who knows, maybe this pitch technique is the new wave.
But I don't mean to give the impression that all the mail I get is like that. It's actually a small minority. A lot of it is better thought-out criticism. Ian from Canada commented on my episode about chiropractic, which began with a description of how the Palmers created the system:
Charles darwin married his close cousin and a few of his kids died because of it, according to Brian in this situation where the creator of an idea is flawed in some way everything that spawns from that idea should be immediately dismissed. I guess that means we can´t teach evolution in school as long as Brians alive and able to write.
Ian is trying to make the point that just because I said something critical of the Palmers, that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the chiropractic arts they invented. This is, of course, quite true: An ad hominem attack on a person says nothing about anything that person may have done or developed. The only problem is that I didn't say anything critical about the Palmers, only about chiropractic itself. Indeed, the Palmers were doing the best they could at a time in history when little useful or true information was known about the way the human body works.
I'll say something critical about the Palmers now, though: Maybe they should have gotten a clue when the convictions for practicing medicine without a license started coming down. Their response should have been to go to medical school; but instead, they started an organization to fund legal defenses of themselves and their students against such charges...as if avoiding medical school was a gallant and heroic thing to do. Ian's right, this criticism says nothing about the validity of chiropractic; but it certainly says something of chiropractic's assessment of medical science.
As long as we're talking about alternatives to medicine, let's hear from "She" in Independence, MO. "She" said:
I just started bioidentical hormomes after researching. My Gosh, after starting bio hormones....one week later...I feel great! I acutally feel "normal." ... I would not take phar. drugs unless I had no other choice. Have you watched the commercial on tv? Everything causes so many other symptoms...
I don't remember seeing any commercials for hormone replacement therapies, but certainly there are commercials for many prescription drugs, and these are probably what "She" is referring to. Drugs that have been tested and approved are required to include certain information in their advertising. This is why every time you see an ad for a drug in a magazine, it's followed by whole pages of small print detailing the required testing that was done. On television, there are usually 30 or more seconds devoted to a discussion of possible side effects and what to do about them. "She" has been sold on untested, unapproved drugs by someone who did not go to medical school. Rather than be concerned about having been given incomplete information, "She" takes the absence of legally required disclosure to mean that there are no side effects to disclose.
I wonder about this. "She" is probably an average person, and the average person compares a sales pamphlet in a naturopath's office that lists only miraculous benefits, to a magazine ad for drug followed by all sorts of small print. Which should the average person choose, who has no knowledge of testing or reporting requirements? The average intelligent layperson can only conclude that the untested product is indeed miraculous, and the approved product is fraught with poisonous side effects. We can't criticize "She" or other folks who are only doing their best with the knowledge they have; we should instead regret that the FDA is grossly underfunded and can't remotely keep up with the daily flood of new, untested charlatan products coming onto the market. Bioidentical hormones are not necessarily charlatan products; they are, after all, intended to be exactly the same "identical" molecule as the prescription version. The difference is the source, purity, and dosage are unknown. That's the essential price you pay for demanding a drug that comes without disclosure.
I had a lot of fun researching the episode about Coral Castle, the rock park in Florida built by Ed Leedskalnin. Since he was just one man, people have imagined all sorts of (frankly) stupid hypotheses about how he could have moved such heavy blocks single handed: That he used "magnetic vortex energy" or even that he sang them into place. What's much more interesting is the common sense methods that he actually did use: leverage, blocks and tackle, and ingenuity. Paul from Walnut Creek, CA, said:
It's good that you appreciated Leedskalnin as an engineer. On things like this, or Stonehenge or the Pyramids, there's a tendency by some to suggest that the techniques used must have been a strict subset of what's used today. But technology doesn't work that way. It's perfectly reasonable to expect that peoples who worked with stone for centuries would have clever building techniques that we don't have today (techniques we don't have simply because we haven't needed them for a long time). That doesn't make them magicians or aliens, just good engineers. Ancient peoples were not dumber versions of ourselves, nor were they especially enlightened; they just lived under different circumstances.
Paul put this very well. There are only a few master samurai swordmakers left in Japan, and one day it may become a lost art. That doesn't mean that the ancient swordmakers must have used magic or had aliens helping them. Neither did Ed Leedskalnin. Neither did the Egyptians who built the pyramids: To this day we don't know the most basic fundamentals of how they did it. If we do learn how it was done some day, that knowledge is going to be far more captivating than the goofy supernatural explanations proposed by the people who have given up trying to learn.
That's what I think is the biggest tragedy of those who accept the supernatural: They're missing out on the wonder of science. When you look at a 30-ton block of coral and conclude that magic must be the only way a single small man could have moved it, you have stopped trying to learn, and you miss out on a truly delightful and creative application of mechanics.
When you dismiss medical science because of its imperfections and turn instead to magic-based therapies, you abandon any meaningful understanding of how your own body actually works.
When you settle on a conspiracy theory as the explanation for what happens in world news, you effectively stop searching for other sources, and you miss out on the real causes and motivations that drive what happens in politics and economics.
The answer is to be more skeptical, and to require a higher standard for what you believe. Keep on thinking, keep on questioning, and keep that listener feedback coming my way.