Why am I here?

I’ve been toying with the idea of a skeptical parenting blog for a while now.  I tend to associate with a crunchy crowd, and I see a lot of woo being flung around as a result.  It can be really frustrating to feel like the only rational person in a conversation!

Today I just couldn’t help engaging someone on Facebook, and the conversation was so emblematic of discussions with woo-believers that I was inspired to finally start writing about this kind of thing.

Here’s an outline of the arguments presented by the believer, to support her belief in Reiki:

  • Chemo fails 97% of the time.  Touch therapy is safer than that radiation!
  • Scientific studies can’t assess Reiki because it uses energy that can’t be measured.
  • Look, this scientific study shows that it works!
  • There’s a conspiracy to keep positive studies from being published.
  • It works for me and my clients.
  • How can you say you know about it when you haven’t personally experienced it and I have?
  • “Its [sic] all perspective. This idea that someone is right and someone else isn’t is the elite’s way of dividing and conquering us.”
  • I came to this belief through rational, evidentiary means, but you won’t be swayed by them because you’re too narrow-minded.
  • (After I asked to see this evidence, promising to be open-minded) OK, go read this 500 page book, and review all the citations in it.  The author is David Wilcock.
  • (After being asked to just provide the 3 most convincing citations) I’m not going to search through a 500 page book just to find the one citation involving Reiki!  (But she expects me to.)
  • Not accepting my personal anecdotal experience as convincing evidence is hurtful, you skeptical meanies!

Now in this case, there were two other skeptics in the discussion, so at least I didn’t have that sinking feeling that the whole world is crazy and I’m alone.  But I was truly gobsmacked at how blind this woman was to the flaws in her reasoning.  If I ever lack for something to write about, I can just go through that list of arguments and pick each one apart, for a pretty comprehensive overview of woo-rationalization!

So anyway, my motivation for finally blogging about this stuff is to express my frustration, to offer arguments against particular pseudoscientific  practices, and to give a picture of what it’s like to be a skeptic and a parent, trying to raise skeptical children.  I’ll surely also talk about more general parenting topics from a skeptical angle, and just brag about my kids and share their more overwhelmingly adorable moments.

About Christine

I'm a full-time mother to two kids, an ex-lawyer, a breastfeeding counselor, a skeptic, and (to steal a phase from Penn & Teller) a "science cheerleader." You can reach me through my Facebook page.

Posted on October 20, 2011, in Newage, Pseudoscience. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. One of the most problematic aspects of mothering and (lack of) skepticism is the anti-vax thinking. It’s bad enough when a child dies from a disease that they were deliberately not vaccinated against, but then you have cases of disease in babies too young to get vaccinated or people with compromised immune systems who can’t get vaccinated.

    Science is imperfect, but it’s the best tool we have for understanding reality.

    • I’m sure I’ll be discussing vaccinations quite a bit. I agree, people who don’t vaccinate their children are not just endangering them, but all the people in our “herd” who can’t be vaccinated or for whom a vaccination wasn’t effective. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as discrediting Andrew Wakefield. Most of the people I know who don’t vaccinate don’t base it on an autism link, but on much more diffuse concerns. (Which aren’t really supported by the evidence either, but make the argument much more complex.)

  2. Cool! While I don’t have children, I do often wonder how I would go about raising them to think critically when I do have them, so I’ll be interested to read what you have to say.

  3. Hello! I saw that discussion. Didn’t really follow it too well since I am not that familiar with either option. Did see it got heated though.

    Regarding vaccines, my son got pretty much all of them besides the chicken pox and flu. Now with my daughter I’m waiting (she has gotten a few I found to be critical). Mainly because my son has one of the worst immune systems I’ve seen. We’ve actually documented it with blood work. I suspect that his immune system reacted to the fillers, but can’t say for sure. I honestly just feel better waiting considering our family history of allergies/intolerances and such. Our pediatrician even supports this. She says in cases like ours it is not a bad idea to wait until the immune system is developed more before pumping the body full of so many. Makes sense to me.

    As for everyone else, I think there are other valid reasons not to do so. I’m curious about the comment linking science to vaccines. That would mean that science and medicine are one in the same. Not always true. I have some good reads if either of you are interested in exploring why the two are not necessarily related. Especially with vaccines since often they are put out to market before the proper research is done.

  4. I’m pretty comfortable with the research on vaccines, but I completely agree that medicine is too often based on tradition and authority rather than the latest science. Almost daily I’m shocked by the ridiculous way labor and delivery are approached by mainstream OBs. Reading Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide to a Better Birth really opened my eyes!

  5. One of the books I was going to recommend is Obstetric Myths Versus Research Realities by Henci Goer. Too funny!

  6. Ray Comfort has stated that you can’t state there is no God (or statements with similar sentiments) unless you know everything about the universe. I have found that this argument is used by those who believe in the paranormal or conspiracy theories. There is a base assumption that anything is possible but instead of having evidence that those things are possible, you need evidence that it isn’t possible. The problem with this is that you cannot prove a negative. Another huge stumbling block when engaging in discussions with those who have this “true until proven otherwise” mentality is that the amount of ‘information’ out there to support these beliefs is vast and often complex.

    Believers like to claim that skeptics live in an information bubble. We have cookie cutter answers for just about anything. (I could delve deeper into this but for now I’ll just focus on the believing community) What is ironic about this claim is that they are guilty of this also. The “research” that is done to ‘prove’ their claims is via internet sites and books that have the same a priori beliefs.

  7. I think The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast is really valuable for learning what is reliable research, what’s preliminary and non-conclusive research, and what’s ideology-driven bad science that still managed to get published.

    Since learning about this stuff, I’ve become more provisional in my citation of many breastfeeding studies, because they often have very small sample sizes, which results more in “hey, this could be a thing – we should do a big reliable study on it!” than, “this has been conclusively proven.”

    There are entire journals that are devoted to junk science, so the fact that a study is published is only the first question: where was it published? was it peer reviewed? what was the sample size? was it double-blind and placebo controlled? has there been subsequent research confirming the conclusions? etc.

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