“Crop circle are messages from extraterrestrial beings!”
“No, they’re not. They’re hoaxes, elaborate man-made pranks.”
“Absolutely not! Men could never made something so complicated!”
“How can you say that? You’re not being scientific! You’re just close-minded!”
This is a practical guide to spot pseudoscience, or to be close-minded if you prefer*, useful because you don’t always need to debunk all the improbable things gullible people believe, you can save time and say: “that’s bullshit”.
#1 An extraordinary claim is made about the world, that doesn’t fit with all the evidence we have about how the world really is.
”The Universe, the Earth, and all the life forms, were created as they are 10000 years ago.”
#2 An extraordinary claim is made about a phenomenon that is impossible to detect empirically.
“People have auras the characteristics of which are related to their personality.”
#3 An extraordinary claim is made without any evidence to support it, arguing that it’s sufficient that there are no evidence against it.
“The dead can communicate with the living through dreams and other means.”
#4 An extraordinary claim is made that is supported only by anectodical evidence.
“A disease can be cured with prayer and other religious rituals.”
#5 An extraordinary claim is made that the claimant states cannot be acknowledged by science because science is wrong or insufficient in some ways.
“Alternative medicine works but western medicine is too reductionist to admit it.”
“Vaccines are bad, but medicine is owned by the pharmaceutical companies that produce them, so your doctor won’t tell you.”
Other clues that should make your skeptic sense tingle:
- reference to authority rather than to direct observation and empirical tests;
- obscure, vague, or misleading language;
- the extraordinary claim has not been verified by other source except the claimant and the belief circle to which he belongs;
- smell of a political, ideological, or religious agenda.
Now, medicine has not all the answers because… well because the whole concept of “all the answers” is silly. But medicine has some answers, and they are really good answers.
I looked into Medical Anthropology, in fact Anthropology was one of my favorite subject when I was studying in University. Medical Anthropology has very interesting things to say, but trust me, an anthropologist who’s having a heart attack would want you to call an ambulance, not a shaman.
And there are good reasons to call an ambulance. Defibrillation greatly increases chances of surviving.
One of the reasons why so many people turn toward alternative medicine is because medicine doesn’t always meet their emotional needs. That’s an issue that is addressed within the field. But that’s an issue that is possible to address just because we have very efficient health care, and thanks to medicine in the last century our health is improved in a degree that is difficult to understand, and because of that, now we can raise questions about how doctors could improve the relationship with their patients, how hospitals could be more comfortable environments, etc. and we should do it, we should ask for better hospitals, more competent doctors and nurses and all the other things that could improve our health, but we should not pay for acupuncture or homeopathy or reiki or whatever, because it doesn’t work! I know you feel it works, but it’s the placebo effect! And you are risking more than you could gain, trust me.
So, it’s not that I’m an atheist and a materialist and so I dismiss Traditional Chinese Medicine (or some other alternative medicine) because of its metaphysical aspects, I dismiss it because the things I studied (psychology) explain the effect of these things better than the confuse statements of the alternative medicine experts, I dismiss it because it encourages irrational belief, for instance as logicianmagician said:
And I dismiss it because when it comes to health problems, you should go see a doctor, because he/she could cure you, a shaman can’t.