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« So, When Does the Backlash Come? The RantsSomeone Else Who Gets It »

This is the Harm of Pseudoscience
2005.04.14 (Thu) 13:54

Over on Respectful Insolence, Orac has put up a post simply called "The Orange Man." This is required reading for anyone who has ever thought: "Well, alternative medicine might not work, but what harm can it do?" As it turns out (and as we've stated repeatedly), the answer to that question is: "A lot."

At the risk of linking to the same page too often in one Rant, we'll repeat: you must read Orac's "Orange Man" post. Yes, it's that important.

If you're too busy right now — in which case you should definitely check it out later — we'll give you some highlights, though we can scarcely do it justice.

Back when Orac was a chief resident doing his general surgery rotation, he encountered a man whose skin was literally orange. It turned out that the Orange Man had been diagnosed a year earlier with rectal cancer, and although at that time there was a good chance that surgery could have taken care of it with minimal post-operative problems, Orac explains:

...the patient would have to be prepared for the small possibility that it might require an abdominoperineal resection (APR) to remove the tumor. (An APR involves taking not just the rectum, but the anus as well. It necessitates sewing the anus shut and leaving the patient with a permanent colostomy....
[our emphasis]

So why was the Orange Man orange?

...Convinced that he could find another way, he sought "alternative" medical treatments. He somehow ended up in New York City, where he undertook a regimen that involved coffee enemas and megadoses of carrot juice. There he returned periodically for over a year, all the while purging himself with coffee enemas, consuming megadoses of carrot juice and vitamin supplements, and undertaking various other "alternative" treatments for a potentially curable cancer (and, I guess, trying to ignore the increasingly orange tint his skin was developing [from the excessive carotene consumption]).

The Orange Man was so fearful of the small chance that he'd end up with a colostomy bag that he sought "alternative" treatment for his cancer to avoid surgery. The result? Unaffected by the bullshit treatment of "coffee enemas and megadoses of carrot juice," the tumor grew for over a year — to the point where, by the time Orac saw the Orange Man, the surgery necessary to combat his cancer was guaranteed to leave him with a colostomy bag; no longer a small chance. In addition, and even more depressing, his long term prognosis was pretty bleak after his wasted year — Orac estimates only a 50% probability that he is still alive today.

We feel nothing but sadness for the Orange Man; terrible sadness and horror at the thought of what this man went through. Disease is one of the common enemies of all human beings, and we dread the thought of having to face such troubles. Our sympathy is with all the Orange People in the world, people whose only crime is the human need for psychological and physical well-being.

We also feel anger and outrage — not at the Orange People, but at the charlatans in this world who are only too happy to take advantage of this need. These vermin, who distract the desperate with fanciful fairy tales or pseudoscientific babble, prolonging and exacerbating their conditions, and implying that their miracle cures are superior to real medical treatment, should all be prosecuted as the frauds they are. We recommend heavy jail time and outrageous fines — they are some of the lowest scum on the planet.

This charlatanry is not limited to the physical sciences. As we've discussed previously, there are many who prey on others' psychological infirmities rather than their physical ones. So-called "psychics" who plant false hopes that a missing child is still alive, only to claim "clairvoyant malfunction" when the child's murdered body is found. The "mediums" who pretend they can talk to your deceased loved ones, but instead just charge you a fee for the service of tainting your true memories with their made-up crap. All of this bullshit is as harmful, in its own way, as the abominable "alternative" medicine movement.

One of our most important human needs when someone close to us dies is the need for closure — the psychological equivalent of healing, the "closing of the wound." It's how we're wired; we're supposed to grieve, but then move on with our lives. Re-marry, re-associate with friends and family, get back to working, playing, creating, living. That's healthy. Even religion, which we have little respect for, acknowledges this: though they posit an afterlife, many religions make it clear that in this life, we won't see the dearly departed again...so keep living, and you'll see them when you die. Obviously, we don't believe the ultimate part of that hypothesis, but the message is a good one — mourn for the dead, but live for the living.

These fucking "mediums" rob people — people like our aggrieved commenter, Brandon, whose brother was murdered — of their chance to heal when they pretend they can talk to the deceased. They keeping prying the psychological wound apart, picking at it, not letting it heal or even scar over. It's unfair, it's cruel...and let's not forget that it's also dishonest.

Reacting to Orac's sad story, Skeptico brings up an old joke:

What do you call alternative medicine that works?

- Medicine.

We'll add a few of our own:

What do you call someone who can see things at a great distance?
— A telescope owner.

What do you call a prognosticator that is consistently accurate?
— A scientist.

What do you call someone who claims to talk to dead people?
— A fucking liar.

— • —
[  Filed under: % Bullshit  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/118

Comments (3)

Skeptico, 2005.04.14 (Thu) 14:33 [Link] »

One more:

What do the police call a psychic who provides accurate information about a crime?

- A suspect.

The Two Percent Company, 2005.04.14 (Thu) 15:25 [Link] »
One more:

What do the police call a psychic who provides accurate information about a crime?

- A suspect.

And that, folks, is why we freaking love Skeptico.

BronzeDog, 2005.09.19 (Mon) 15:41 [Link] »

I think I'll try a few...

What do you call a person who can perform acts of levitation, teleportation, and divination?

- A stage magician.

What do you call the beings who create crop circles?

- Geometers.

What do you call the ability to instantly communicate with others across the globe?

- Email.

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