What’s Your Heresy?
I was going to do a Batman post today, but I’ve got annoyed again, so you’ll have to wait.
Specifically, I got annoyed by this , something that’s been going round on the internet for a few days.
It calls itself The Periodic Table Of Irrational Nonsense, but it is itself nonsense at least as irrational as anything it attacks, and I’m *SICK* of this.
Before I go any further, let me make something clear: I am a scientific rationalist. I have had papers I co-authored published in more than one scientific discipline. I consider the scientific method the only reliable way of discovering knowledge that humanity has ever discovered. I am also a sceptic and, I believe, a clear-headed thinker.
But *as* a scientific, clear-headed, rational thinker, I consider that list to be utter, unadulterated, concentrated irrationality.
Because I can see two possible ways that list was put together:
Possibility a – The author has, himself, researched into all these categories, read all the relevant literature, looked at the arguments used by the most prominent advocates of those beliefs/hypotheses/ideas, checked their data, and somehow come to the conclusion that only those things that are attacked regularly by Ben Goldacre, Richard Dawkins and other prominent ‘skeptics’ are irrational nonsense or
Possibility b – He has chosen a list that, within the group of people he wishes to associate with, is completely uncontroversial, a list endorsed by the alpha males of his group, without actually thinking rationally about any of it.
There is quite a bit of evidence for possibility b. (In the next two paragraphs I’m using examples that my friend Gavin brought up in a discussion with me. I’d probably have used these examples anyway, but credit where due):
“Faith healing” supposedly works through the placebo effect. Double-blind clinical trials rely on the supposed efficacy of the placebo effect to have any validity. Either the placebo effect is real, in which case faith healing works, or (as I consider the evidence to show) it isn’t, and double-blind trials should be on there too.
“Memetics”, on the other hand, is just a set of Just-So stories, a supposed ‘science’ with no explanatory power, which makes no falsifiable predictions that are not trivially true without it, and which insists on treating a metaphor as having objective reality. Judged purely rationally, it should be right there snugly next to Scientology. Yet it’s strangely missing…
Other things that are strangely missing from there, but are irrational as hell, include meta-analyses, libertarianism and supporting illegal wars, all of which many of the ‘rational’ ‘skeptics’ (always spelled the American way, even though the creator of this image is British) on that person’s blogroll support. Those would certainly be on any list of the ‘irrational’ I put together…
And on the other hand, several of the things on there simply shouldn’t be. The obvious one is ‘conspiracy theories’. *ALL* conspiracy theories? Even the ones we know demonstrably to be true (such as Brown agreeing to stand down in the Labour leadership so long as Blair stood down in his favour eventually as Prime Minister)? So *no* conspiracies ever happen? We should probably get rid of the laws against conspiracy then, I suppose…
I’ve looked into *some* of the things on that list for myself – the majority I haven’t. Of those I have, some appear to me to have some truth, some appear to me to be almost certainly false, and some are in a grey area. I suspect that that would be true for anyone who looked into them *without the bias of trying to fit into a pre-approved ‘skeptic’ mould*.
So I’ve made a decision – I’m not going to believe in the ‘rationality’ of anyone who isn’t prepared to defend at least one of the things on that list as being reasonable. I won’t fall out with anyone over it, but I’m going to assume that anything you say is justified not by reason but by appeal to authority. (Of course some of you already get a pass on this – like Debi, who is a rational, sceptical, scientist but also a Buddhist – Buddhism’s on the list).
So what’s your heresy? What, out of that list of thoughtcrimes, do you think has some merit?
In my case, it’s vitamin megadoses.
I take a minimum of six grams of vitamin C every day, rising to much more whenever I’m even slightly ill. I take many other supplements, too, at much higher than the RDA. These ‘megadoses’ have improved my physical and mental health enormously. Having read many books co-authored by my uncle Dr Steve Hickey (here are two of them, both of which I proofread. That’s my Amazon affiliate link, but you can buy them without that) and, more importantly, checked the original papers he cites, I have come to the conclusion that there is an *overwhelming* body of evidence in favour of the hypothesis that many vitamins can have health benefits at levels far beyond those in the RDA.
To take the most egregious example, in the mid 1970s Prof Linus Pauling – possibly the most important scientist of the 20th century, and the only person ever to win two Nobel Prizes – and Dr Ewan Cameron tried giving vitamin C in very large doses to terminal cancer patients. These patients outlived their expected lifespan by significant periods (in some cases people expected to live hours or days stayed alive for years on this treatment).
The Mayo Clinic, a ‘prestigious’ medical centre, claimed to have ‘proved’ that Cameron and Pauling’s research was flawed – they tried to replicate the tests and failed, and their publication effectively meant that any investigation of vitamin C’s role in cancer was laughed at as ‘pseudo-science’ for more than twenty years.
Except that the Mayo Clinic used oral doses while Pauling and Cameron used intravenous doses. And that the Mayo Clinic cut their trial short. And that before the Mayo Clinic cut their trial short there had been no deaths from cancer, but the death rate went up as soon as the vitamin C was withdrawn. There were methodological errors in the Mayo paper that would get someone a fail in GCSE Biology, let alone when dealing in serious oncology.
I could go into this much, much more, but I’m tired and too hot. But I’ll discuss in comments. But if you want me to discuss more of my reasoning here, first tell me: What’s *YOUR* heresy? And while you’re at it, what do you think *should* be on that list that isn’t (my big one would be ‘making lists of things and claiming those things are irrational nonsense, as if “irrational nonsense” was a property attached to them rather than an opinion’)?