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Under the presumptuous heading of “Scholarly Article,” four Canadian “scientists” – all PhDs or PhD candidates – have presented the world with an amazingly naïve and ludicrous paper that you can access at www.badscience.net/?p=277, though I warn you it’s a heavy mess to make your way through. My friend Ben Goldacre of the UK’s Guardian newspaper, tipped me off to this.
It’s titled, “Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences: truth, power and fascism.” No, I couldn’t make that up – though our hero Jonathan Swift could have. Perhaps just the Abstract and the first 70 words of the Introduction will satisfy most readers, who might otherwise fall over laughing at the whole tirade, were it not for the fact that these academics appear to be serious. Decide for yourself:
Drawing on the work of the late French philosophers Deleuze and Guattari, the objective of this paper is to demonstrate that the evidence-based movement in the health sciences is outrageously exclusionary and dangerously normative with regard to scientific knowledge. As such, we assert that the evidence-based movement in health sciences constitutes a good example of microfascism at play in the contemporary scientific arena.
The philosophical work of Deleuze and Guattari proves to be useful in showing how health sciences are colonised (territorialised) by an all-encompassing scientific research paradigm – that of post-positivism – but also and foremost in showing the process by which a dominant ideology comes to exclude alternative forms of knowledge, therefore acting as a fascist structure.
The Cochrane Group, among others, has created a hierarchy that has been endorsed by many academic institutions, and that serves to (re)produce the exclusion of certain forms of research. Because “regimes of truth” such as the evidence-based movement currently enjoy a privileged status, scholars have not only a scientific duty, but also an ethical obligation to deconstruct these regimes of power.
We can already hear the objections. The term fascism represents an emotionally charged concept in both the political and religious arenas; it is the ugliest expression of life in the 20th century. Although it is associated with specific political systems, this fascism of the masses, as was practiced by Hitler and Mussolini, has today been replaced by a system of microfascisms – polymorphous intolerances that are revealed in more subtle ways….
If this is indeed serious, it’s an attack on rationality, on the scientific method, on reason, by people who should know better. It says, in effect, that "alternative" ways of thinking – intuition, feel-good ideas, hunches, guesses, and anything that sounds okay – should be accepted over evidence-based health science, because – as they claim – this “constitutes 98% of the literature.” What have I misunderstood here? Is medical science a popularity contest? Is voting by volume of published material to become the new standard of acceptability in what these goofs look upon as health science? Blood-letting, homeopathy, magnets, acupuncture, moxibustion, chanting, and pleading by prayer would appear – to them, simply because these are very old ideas – to be much more effective than medicinal methods that have been proven – endlessly, over and over again – to work, and to work very, very, well!
But these Canadian mystics are alarmed that their favored hocus-pocus is being bypassed by real medicine, and they write:
Unmasking the hidden politics of evidence-based discourse is paramount, and it is this task that forms the basis of our critique.
After reading this, even ignoring my “politics,” I wouldn’t allow myself to be taken to the Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Nursing, at the University of Ottawa, for a hangnail or for a headache. The staff – which includes the lead author of this weird paper – might be giving me calomel. Why? Because that’s mercurous chloride, Hg2Cl2, a deadly poison, but used in medicine for over four centuries, so it’s certainly shown up in the 98% of the medical literature so happily accepted and celebrated by this bunch. Or would they choose to rub magnets on my body to stimulate my circulation? That’s adored by quacks, too, and it falls within that 98%!
(Just to satisfy that small percentage of my readers who delight in finding mis-statements in my text, I allowed the Hg2Cl2 statement to creep in above, waiting until those with chemical acumen had eagerly reached for the keyboard to chastise me. I’m well aware that mercurous chloride, as such, is not directly a poison, but if it is orally ingested, as was done for 400 years and more with calomel, it separates into mercury and mercuric chloride (HgCl2) when it hits the hydrochloric acid in the stomach. That variety of chloride quickly brings about drastic kidney failure and other dramatic and nasty events which lead to death. There!)
Reader Ian MacMillan informs us that hospitalized Israeli soldiers have been paid an in-person visit from conjuror Uri Geller, who appears to be applying to them the same old technique that he’s been selling to UK rugby teams, the “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better” mantra originated in the 1880s by Emil Coué, the French pharmacist. One hopes that it works better for the soldiers than it did for the UK footballers. That record is abysmal.
As was inevitable, Geller also treated the soldiers to his famous trick of gently rubbing the handle of a spoon until it appears to bend. It’s one of his repertoire of only a half-dozen close-up numbers. Please note: no bones about it, in the press release on this item, the performance is plainly referred to as a “trick,” though Geller says, as always, "No, bending spoons is not a trick – it's a science." Increasingly, to my delight, the media is currently referring to Geller as a magician, and to his performances as “tricks.” They finally got it right.
But the real topper on this publicity event occurred when Geller handed a bent spoon to a bemused-looking injured soldier saying: "That's an official Uri Geller spoon. Sell it on eBay for a thousand dollars." He seems not to recall that the last Geller-bent spoon offered on eBay fetched just one penny from the only bidder… See www.randi.org/jr/200511/110405please.html#i7.
The press item concluded:
An elderly woman commented, as she watched him drive away from the hospital, "That is Uri Geller. He is a very clever magician. Perhaps he could bend some Katyusha rockets so they could do a U-turn and go back into Lebanon."
See? Geller would have us believe that even old ladies in Israel are misinformed – or maybe they’re just smarter than he thinks…
Reader Frank Ward of Toledo, Ohio, tells us:
When I read in your latest commentary about efforts to bring on rain in Lubbock, Texas, involving their mayor, I was reminded of a similar situation here in Toledo, Ohio.
Recently, after one particular neighborhood here had been repeatedly hit with serious flooding, our Mayor Carty Finkbeiner (I'm not making this up) visited residents in the affected area. He led them in praying to the Lord to stop the rain. A photograph in The Toledo Blade shows him doing just that. Lo and behold, there have been only minor flooding problems since then, so draw your own conclusions. Mr. Finkbeiner drew national attention to himself a few years ago, during a previous term in office as Mayor, when he suggested, apparently in all seriousness, that houses adjacent to the airport, vacated due to noise problems, be made available to the deaf. I'm reminded of an old George Carlin line about the notice on the Indian reservation bulletin board reading "Wednesday night there will be a rain dance – weather permitting."
UK reader Graham Peters:
The mystery of crop circles was solved for us when we lived in England in the 1990’s. We found ourselves ambling up the A34 toward Newbury where an exquisite crop circle had appeared on the hills to our East. On closer examination, we found a car park, complete with cashier, accepting £5 notes for the privilege of parking on his land and crushing down his corn (a lovely Old English word describing all grain crops, particularly wheat) to examine the “natural” phenomenon – oh, sorry “extra-terrestrial.”
We happily paid for the privilege of examining this up close, noting the fact that such “crop circles” were a recent arrival in Britain. The series of adjacent circles showed an exquisite artfulness, quite beyond the realms of such simple country folk who lived hereabouts (60 miles from London). I was particularly impressed by the stake mark at the centre of each circle (peculiarly in the tractor tire marks apparent in all such crops and which conceals human footmarks) and the obvious pressing over of the upper reaches of the crop between the centre of each circle and the concentric rings as might perhaps occur if the placement of a board was dictated by a radius drawn from a central stake.
There is something exquisitely bucolic about a summer afternoon spent amongst an English grain crop with a beautiful woman, quite conducive to an extraterrestrial experience. Said woman (who knows far too much about Old-English fertility rites for her own good) objected on the grounds of (a) the presence of a toddler and (b) wouldn’t the stubble get into her drawers?
The sense of romance of the crop circles was rather lost to us on noting that the yokel farmer who took our cash had a distinctly fairground appearance and an extraordinarily professional looking (and well worn) cash pouch worn around his waist.
But we agreed that the overall effect was very beautiful.
Grain prices improved the next year.
Reader “Adolphus Smart” was among a dozen or so readers who vastly improved my admittedly meager knowledge of Buddhist literature, though we don’t really know for sure that the McElroys – see www.randi.org/jr/2006-08/080406move.html#i3 – reached further back than I did for their imaginary guru’s lineage:
I always read (and often enjoy) the weekly commentary. But I think you and your readers should have put a little more research into the bit about the origins of "Maitreya." While the woo-wooers fling his name around – as they do with most respectable, if not PC, spiritual figures – the name and concept of Maitreya certainly predates any sci-fi novel. From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maitreya:
The [story of the] prophecy of the arrival of Maitreya is found in the canonical literature of all Buddhist sects… and is accepted by most Buddhists as a statement about an actual event that will take place in the distant future.... One of the earliest mentions of Maitreya is a Sanskrit text, the Maitreyavyâkaraņa (The Prophecy of Maitreya), stating that Gods, men and other beings will worship Maitreya.
I read and enjoyed "Lord of Light" decades ago while taking a summer course in the "levitation" TM SIDHIS at MIU [Mahareshi International University] in my wayward youth. It was almost like an "underground classic" secretly passed among a few of us who could relate to being out of sync to a predominant "Hindu hierarchy." Actually, we were more like the rebellious parochial school kids making faces behind the nuns’ backs.
The book was passed on to me by the same guy who showed me your "Flim Flam Man!" earlier that same year. Needless to say, I eventually left the place, though I only consider the TM Movement more wacky than insidious.
Adolphus, the book is “Flim-Flam!” (1980) and not “Flim Flam Man,” which was a 1967 movie – though both are hugely enjoyable and informative… I’ll also note that the mythological Maitreya – as I’ve discovered through my new knowledge – is invariably portrayed as beardless, though the woo-woos delight in giving him Darwinesque chin-fuzz. But hey, accuracy be damned!
Dominic Lopez had a similar take on the McElroys:
I suppose the McElroys are using the name to give some weight and authority to the "spirit" they claim to channel. They are attempting to legitimize their claims by using a term that has meaning and significance to a certain religious community and not doing the equivalent of channeling Gandalf as you seem to imply.
Is there that much difference – in reality, which constantly intrudes on my thinking processes – between Gandalf and Maitreya? Think about that. Both are fictitious males, both are magical, both are fantasies…
Reader Larry Thornton reminds us about the host of the very popular woo-woo “Coast to Coast” radio show:
In 1998, Art Bell was named as recipient of the less-than-prestigious Snuffed Candle Award. The Council for Media Integrity cited Bell "for encouraging credulity, presenting pseudoscience as genuine, and contributing to the public's lack of understanding of the methods of scientific inquiry."
I’ll bet that Bell has the award displayed in his trophy case…
A reader asked me, if we got to Mars and took up living there, would our astrological influences change? Umm, no. Since there are no such influences, it wouldn’t make any difference at all… But this would cause much fluster among astrologers, just as the discovery of any form of extraterrestrial life would bring about an attack of the vapors among religious fundamentalists…
Mike Douglas, one of the first-ever variety-show hosts of television, left us last Friday at age 81. Of all the persons I shared a set with, he was the least controversial, most affable, and ingenuous. He accepted everyone at face value and everyone got the benefit of the doubt. For example, he accepted as true every ridiculous claim made by Uri Geller when he appeared on the show, perhaps because Mike was generous and trusting even of magicians.
Mike had a very successful system whereby he would share the hosting duties with a celebrity for a full week of shows. I recall at least three times in which I was on the program, with co-hosts Eartha Kitt, Roger Miller, and Jackie Gleason, respectively. Some day I’ll relate the interesting chat I had backstage with Gleason, and the heated discussion I had with the late Pearl Bailey when Eartha was there…
Mike really paid close attention to his guests and what they had to say. I always felt that he had a genuine interest in what I told him, and on one show I set him up on how to tell the difference between a genuine and a counterfeit currency note. In advance, I told the prop man to supply Mike with two one-hundred-dollar bills. When the subject came up for discussion, Mike handed me both bills. I identified one as a counterfeit, switched that one for a fake, and folded both of them into thirds, “for testing.” I laid aside the “fake” bill for the moment and touched a lit match to the corner of the bill I held. “That bill, Mike, is genuine. It takes a touch of flame like that without any serious result. But this one…” (I picked up the phony bill) “This one is counterfeit.” And I touched the match to it. The bill vanished in a sudden flash of light. You see, I’d secretly switched it for a fake bill printed on “flash paper” – nitrocellulose, which is consumed instantly and completely when ignited, without leaving any residue. Well, the expression on Mike’s face was something to see, I can tell you. He was just flummoxed, seeing one hundred dollars evaporate…
He was a much-loved pioneer who lived a full and happy life…
Reader Evan Miller is rightly annoyed at an action by the YouTube site. This is a collection of video bits that can be tapped into by interested I Internet skimmers, and has a search facility whereby subjects can be located. Says Evan:
Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought about contacting you Mr. Randi. However due to my recent outrage, I cannot just sit still. First of all, I'm a huge fan of yours. I'm an aspiring college student and lonely atheist. I'm a frequent listener of Point of Inquiry and Skepticality and thoroughly enjoy your interviews. You have been quoted on a video on the website YouTube as saying the Atheist video was "Very Cool."
Recently that video was featured by YouTube. “Featured” is a term they use which means that they literally feature it in a list on the front page of their website. This allows for a boosted amount of views for any video featured there. Normally it takes about a week or two for any video to cycle through the list. The Atheist video disappeared from the list in about one day. It was apparently intentionally pulled from the list for some reason. Originally I was very surprised to see that the video had been featured, but the pulling just re-affirms my beliefs about how people view us. YouTube is a huge community and skepticism apparently is not an important part of it.
That “Atheist” video – before it disappears completely – is www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdVucvo-kDU. Perhaps we should make sure our friends get to see and/or copy it before it is somehow “lost” by the system…?
A find! Here’s a real surprise! Click here to hear the actual voice of the legendary Harry Houdini – recorded by Thomas Edison himself on a wax cylinder – delivering his speech introducing the Water Torture Cell illusion that he originated and featured in his final theater tour in 1929!
We’re off to our Bermuda Triangle Cruise in a week, and I’ll try hard to get a new SWIFT up for you. It will depend on the electronics and the availability of facilities.
Two major tests – one of homeopathy, and one of dowsing – are coming up shortly, and we’ll have detailed reports ready for you readers, of course. The million dollars will be dangled, as always…
Very soon, I’ll publish here the entire script of the Miss Cleo telephone scam that took in millions, and you’ll see just how clever and insidious this fraud was. I only hope it doesn’t give away enough material that more Miss Cleos will emerge!
My recovery continues well, thank you. Every day, in every way… Well, you know the line.