Pseudoscience in your supermarket

pseudoscience1

Image credit: Blueollie

This article by Michael Schulson in the Daily Beast struck a chord with me – Whole Foods: America’s Temple of Pseudoscience. Possibly because I have spent far too much time debating  anti-fluoride activists. But the experience has certainly made me very aware the pseudoscience  extends a lot further than creationism and climate change denial. That’s the point Michael makes:

“you don’t have to schlep all the way to Kentucky in order to visit America’s greatest shrine to pseudoscience. In fact, that shrine is a 15-minute trip away from most American urbanites.

I’m talking, of course, about Whole Foods Market. From the probiotics aisle to the vaguely ridiculous Organic Integrity outreach effort (more on that later), Whole Foods has all the ingredients necessary to give Richard Dawkins nightmares. And if you want a sense of how weird, and how fraught, the relationship between science, politics, and commerce is in our modern world, then there’s really no better place to go. Because anti-science isn’t just a religious, conservative phenomenon—and the way in which it crosses cultural lines can tell us a lot about why places like the Creation Museum inspire so much rage, while places like Whole Foods don’t.”

I have found that in very many cases if you scratch an anti-fluoridationist or anti-vaccinationists you will find a food faddist. Often a dogmatic food faddist.

Schulson makes the point that a lot of food faddism is pseudoscience – but it is a pseudoscience which seems far more acceptable, even to intelligent people, than what we usually think of as pseudoscience:

“there’s a lot in your average Whole Foods that’s resolutely pseudoscientific. The homeopathy section has plenty of Latin words and mathematical terms, but many of its remedies are so diluted that, statistically speaking, they may not contain a single molecule of the substance they purport to deliver. The book section—yep, Whole Foods sells books—boasts many M.D.’s among its authors, along with titles like The Coconut Oil Miracle and Herbal Medicine, Healing, and Cancer, which was written by a theologian and based on what the author calls the Eclectic Triphasic Medical System.”

We all know people who get sucked in by this talk – maybe many of us get sucked in a bit ourselves. Perhaps there is a bit of food faddism in all of us. And isn’t this sort of thing harmless – if it makes you happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else, why bother?

But I think Schulson has a point when he writes:

“The danger is when these ideas get tied up with other, more politically muscular ideologies. Creationism often does, of course—that’s when we should worry. But as vaccine skeptics start to prompt public health crises, and GMO opponents block projects that could save lives in the developing world, it’s fair to ask how much we can disentangle Whole Foods’ pseudoscientific wares from very real, very worrying antiscientific outbursts.”

For some people it is not far from a food fad to chemo-phobia. Start buying sea salt because it is advertised as “chemical free” and it is easy to get sucked into ideas that anything is bad because it contains “chemicals.” “Chemical” becomes a bad word – and “natural” a good one.

In my article Who is funding anti-fluoridation High Court action?  I described how the NZ Health Trust, the organisation behind the recent High Court action attempting to rule fluoridation illegal, is a lobby group for the natural supplement and health practitioner industry. I described their court action as that of a corporate lobby group attempting to stop a public health policy.

One of my critics actually made the point that I was wrong. An industry selling “natural” health products could not be described as corporate because of the word “natural!”

Words like “chemical” and “natural’ can be emotionally laden for many people and this can make them susceptible to other pseudoscientific ideas.

That is what I have found with many people I have debated. Their emotional or ideological committment to food fads like “organic” food and coconut oil treatments often goes together with opposition to fluoridation and vaccination. With many of them it seems to lead to conspiracy theories like depopulation and chemtrails.

To me, that is the message of the poster above.

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23 responses to “Pseudoscience in your supermarket

  1. Generally I prefer food that has been sprayed with pesticides and other contaminants

    I don’t have any time for these organic food types

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  2. Reblogged this on uknowispeaksense and commented:
    Acceptance of pseudoscience over actual science boils down to ignorance, scientific illiteracy and general distrust of authority. Couple those things with ease of access to dodgy information pushed by unscrupulous scheisters and you get the emergence of the google galileos. it stretches across all areas of science from medical, technological, environmental and even materials science (think hemp). The only cure is education and plenty of it.

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  3. Like many things, it boils down to common sense. Some pesticides are necessaary whilst DDT is a menace.

    The problem is when people hold a black and white view of the world, which leads to fitting square pegs into round holes…

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  4. Good article Ken. I got sucked into the coconut oil scam after reading some articles by Mercola. I really thought that the medium chain fatty acids found in coconut oil (according to Joe, far superior to long and short chain fatty acids), would kick start weight loss, give me boundless energy and be great to use in cooking. Unfortunately, I really hated the taste of it but found it good for rubbing on the soles of my feet to help with cracked heels. I ended up throwing it out after it became rancid along with my bottle of Krill oil, protein powder, low carb and Blood Type diet books, ‘Angel Cards'(by Doreen Virtue, they were a present, so not my fault) and the blue green algae supplements in my freezer. I started on a steady and well balanced diet of pod-casts including ‘Skeptics Guide to the Universe’ and ‘Quack Cast’ and ‘The Skeptic Zone’.
    I think we can all fall for scams and pseudoscience if we are not careful. It would be a great idea to take religion out of State Schools and replace it with 30 minutes per week of critical thinking skills and humanist theories.

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  5. Some pesticides are necessaary whilst DDT is a menace.

    Yet if you dig around on the internet and don’t look to closely at the source, you can find sciencey that will show how fine and dandy is DDT.
    It’s just a question of shopping around for the reality that suits you.

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  6. Pingback: The Daily Blog Watch – 26/27 February 2014 « The Daily Blog

  7. Given that the global ban on DDT killed several million people due to the resurgence of malaria, it would be reasonable to suggest that this wasn’t a black and white issue.

    On the religion subject, I am not sure how taking religion out of schools will stop people eating organic food. Maybe I am missing the linkage

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  8. I have got coconut oil in my kitchen, and we grow our own veggies. Does that make me anti-science?

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  9. <i. I am not sure how taking religion out of schools will stop people eating organic food. Maybe I am missing the linkage

    That’s pretty weird Andy, after all, you invented the link.

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  10. I was imputing the link from logichick above.

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  11. Given that the global ban on DDT killed several million people due to the resurgence of malaria, it would be reasonable to suggest that this wasn’t a black and white issue.

    “Gven that we know the moon landings happened ’cause you can look through a telescope and see the gear, blah, blah, blah.”

    No.
    Factchecking is not your strong point, Andy.
    You just shop around on the internet for a reality that suits you.
    You never look closely at the source.
    If it looks sciencey and it tells you what you want to hear then it’ll do for you.

    Reality doesn’t work that way.
    Either there really is a global ban on “X” or there isn’t.
    It doesn’t matter what “X” is.
    Either you can look through a telescope and see “X” or you can’t.
    Again, it doesn’t matter what “X” is.

    Until you adopt a better methodology, you are doomed to make the same basic mistakes.

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  12. So you are denying that the global ban on DDT killed millions of people?
    Wow, like Holocaust denial on a magnificent scale

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  13. You think that there’s a global ban on DDT just like you think that you can see moonlanding gear with a telescope.
    You never fact check.
    Never.
    Yet this is something that’s really easy to fact-check. It’s effortless.
    You can’t be bothered.

    You dig around on the internet and don’t look to closely at the source.
    The same lack of rigour in your research methods that burned you with the glass jars thingy and the Daily Current doesn’t stop there.
    You don’t learn from your mistakes.
    You don’t change your methodology.

    Tell us where you learned about this global ban that killed millions.
    Tell us your source of information.
    Tell us why you went with that source and not a better one.
    How did they sucker you in?

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  14. I am not interest din “debating” Cedric.

    The use of DDT was curtailed after Rachel Carson’s scare in Silent Spring. The resultant increase in malaria killed many people

    FACT

    Now toddle off and find someone else to play with.

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  15. Here is question for Andy.

    If life supporting intervention is withdrawn from a non-viable patient (say for arguments sake, a patient brain-dead from multiple trauma) and the then the patient dies, what killed the patient? the trauma or the withdrawal of treatment?

    (ps I don’t pretend to know)

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  16. I would argue that the trauma killed the patient. I have had a friend in this situation too, by the way.

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  17. Given that the global ban on DDT killed several million people
    (…)
    So you are denying that the global ban on DDT killed millions of people?
    Wow, like Holocaust denial on a magnificent scale.

    (…)
    but later…

    The use of DDT was curtailed…

    Oh Andy.
    They conned you. You lapped it up.
    Yet they didn’t con me.
    Nor would they have conned Richard or Ken.
    We don’t get our science information the way you do.
    Our standards are higher.

    Why is it so hard for you to do the most simple of fact-checking?
    Why do you continuously sell yourself short like that?

    Sure you can believe that there’s a global ban on DDT if you want to.
    You can go ahead and believe that it killed millions of people.
    You can dig around on the internet and not look too closely at the source, and you can find sciencey to re-inforce this silliness.
    If you really want to.
    Yet shopping around for your own reality will only work on others like you.
    The rest of us get to point at you and laugh for being a sucker yet again.

    The whole telescope thingy? You’re completely wrong about that too.
    You can find that out for yourself using the same really, really simple methodology that caused your DDT PRATTs to implode in the space of only …(checks watch)….9 hours.

    I would argue…

    Uncanny.
    That’s the first thing you do.
    It never occurs to you swap out your methodology for something better.

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  18. trauma killed the patient.

    I’m inclined to agree, I don’t see too many medical doctors being prosecuted over such decisions.

    So was it the”ban” or was it the malaria that killed squillions?

    (Gee I’d better watch out, being able to argue such shades of meaning probably qualifies me for admission into a theology course.)

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  19. The direct cause was Malaria, obviously. The increase in Malaria was brought about by the curtailment of DDT in these countries.

    I’m sure you can find some primary sources of information about this, if anyone is interested.

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  20. Andy, what about checking out the reduction of effectiveness of DDT because of elvoving immunity while you are searching for those primary sources?

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  21. The same people that conned you into thinking that there’s a global ban on DDT are the same people that conned you into thinking that somebody called Rachel scared people with a book so…something…then (OMG!!) global ban.
    Didn’t happen.

    It’s exactly like the deliberate confusion over global climate change.
    Somebody called Al scared people with a documentary so…something…then (OMG!!) climate change scare.
    Nope.
    That’s not what happened.
    There’s the whole NASA thing etc.

    Instead of just meekly believing stuff on the internet, do some fact-checking for once in your life.
    Ken’s mention of evolving immunity is on the money.
    In the real world, scientists do scientific research.
    They don’t just read a book or movie and meekly go along with it.
    In science, only the work counts.

    Fact check.

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  22. Cedric, please get fucked

    Like

  23. Christopher Atkinson

    “If life supporting intervention is withdrawn from a non-viable patient (say for arguments sake, a patient brain-dead from multiple trauma) and the then the patient dies, what killed the patient? the trauma or the withdrawal of treatment”

    Easy. Neither.

    “Brain death is the irreversible end of brain activity (including involuntary activity necessary to sustain life) due to total necrosis of the cerebral neurons following loss of brain oxygenation” ;

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brain_death

    We all die this way

    Like

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