Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Counter Example

I just finished reading the comment thread on an article in a Vancouver Weekly - The Georgia Straight. It's actually quite entertaining - if like me you get a kick out of the skeptical equivalent of a highway pile-up.

In it local skeptic, Jesse Brydle (with the assist of a few scattered others) takes on a tsunami of bad arguments - non-sequiturs, hysterical hand-waving and defiant declarations that their own single anecdotal observations and experiences constitute real evidence.

The Straight did a fucking awful article to start off with. It was written by a homeopath talking about how homeopathy helped her kids. The proponents of alternative medicine often pull out the canard that supporters of standard medicine are in the pocket of Big Pharma. Uh... so an entire article about how pretty homeopathy is - written by a homeopath? Yeah - THAT is unbiased and not 'in the pocket' of anyone.

Jesse took 'em on. And while I don't think he changed the mind of any of the commenters who were fighting him he managed to put forward a good solid well reasoned argument - and he did it without appearing to lose his temper... not sure I could have done so. Meanwhile many of the homeopathy supporters were not so calm, and in many cases down right ridiculous.

One of the more shocking things to me was the nurses who support homeopathy. Here are a few names- assuming that they were using their actual names (and are actually RNs): Jenny Lindstrom & Kathleen Taylor. (Note: Kathleen Taylor does come up in a google search for her name and "nurse" on a site (several, in fact) related to nursing; Jenny Lindstrom only comes up associated to the comment thread in question.) I am in favour of free speech - utterly. These women have every right to reveal themselves as believers in hokum - perhaps the powers that govern them will see fit to give them a proper education or get them the fuck out of our hospitals!

But back to Jesse. Props to him for laying out the details in a logically consistent manner and for actually linking to sources... something that almost everyone he was arguing against failed to do.

Jesse is a good skeptic. Not an asshole skeptic.


  1. Thank you again, I'm flattered. I think you're right in that I probably didn't change anyone's mind, but perhaps some of my questions will stick in the heads of the undecided.

    I have heard, and I don't want to make any claims I can't back up, so this is admittedly pure gossip, but I heard that the author of that article is the daughter of the person who owns the Georgia Straight, and that the editors would have torn it apart if not for that reason. I don't know whether to be upset that nepotism allowed this tripe to get into mainstream media, or glad that the editors at least recognized the faults of the article, even if they were unwilling to do anything about it.

  2. Hmmm - that would certainly be interesting to find out the truth of. Wasted energy to get upset about it unless it can be confirmed.