I can’t help but wonder if doggedly debunking all spewings from the purveyors of woo is somewhat a fool’s errand.
There are a number of pseudo-scientific disciplines whose concepts are inherently highly attractive and contagious to the average Joe, saying things that make him feel good and making him want to pass on the good news. Think of how easy to sell these messages are:
- organic food – frolicking chickens, steaming compost, happy farmers, healthy food – a return to basics, back to a purer time when humans actually had roots in the earth and cared for it; you too can go organic!
- complimentary medicine – age-old wisdom, so long suppressed by big pharma is unlocked just for those open-minded enough to look. Are you open-minded! Yes? Here are your keys to healthy prosperity!
- astrology – our fates, entwined with the universe, form a beautiful unity; enigmatic scholars have acted custodian to its cipher through the ages. Are you a spiritual soul? You too can share time’s secrets!
- parapsychology – our minds are more powerful than science knows, and we all have potential beyond our wildest dreams! But hold on! Only those willing to break free from the trappings of conventional science will ever see the light…
- and of course the big kahuna, religion – imagine for a minute the greatest most wonderful thing in all the world, and that is but nothing compared with the joys that await the believer, and for all eternity too!
It is little wonder the bible I had as a kid said “Good News” on the cover.
The issue is that the logical shredding of these pieces is often a sobering dose of reality that fills most people with instant sleepiness:
- organic food is not always kinder to the planet and claimed health benefits are of the ‘hard to verify’ sort
- alternative medicine actually does work, but only the level one would expect from getting time, care, attention and the placebo effect
- the laws of physics do allow marvellous things (x-rays, computers, holograms) but it takes serious study to understand why they don’t allow for the positions of stars and planets to have predictable effects of the day-to-day ongoings in suburbia.
- the mind is indeed fabulously clever and poorly understood, but those tedious laws of physics, and indeed dry, cold logic, are annoyingly sticky when it comes to clairvoyance, ESP, psychokinesis and precognition.
So YAWN! Boring!! Logic and analysis mean effort, work, thinking things through, totting up totals, cross-checking claims, testing, questioning and doubting. Pretty much the opposite of nice & easy. Accepting we are not all-powerful, we are not immortal and that we will all be forgotten someday is just no fun. These are not messages that will go viral, that will breed missionaries, that would generate a manic fervour. More like manic depression.
So the deck is stacked. Pseudo-scientific ideas persist because they are tenacious memes, and they are almost impossible to kill. They are contagious and sticky, and lovely and easy, and fighting them off requires not just the will, but also the ammunition.
And that is why it worthwhile to continue to fight the good fight – to keep trying to debunk poor thinking – to provide the ammunition to that small number, those that may be on their own, surrounded by superstition, but with that gift in their heart that is that first inkling of doubt.
I will do it for those that think they are alone as I once did.
We live in a time of unprecedented opportunity – people have better access than ever to the tools to arm themselves to achieve a new sort of ideal: to make life choices with full access to all the facts. We are after all free to choose to believe anything, the problem only comes when we are not given the choice. No information, no balance, no choice.