The new 21st century quackery (part 4)

After analyzing this phenomena it would be good to take a look at those who invested their time and talent in debunking all these fantasies, as well as at some useful examples to make us remember that ignorance can have very serious consequences.


(Read the third part of this article here)


A selfless work done by some

While charlatans are, and have always been, a legion, there have also been as there are nowadays too individuals  who committed their time and their knowledge to refute all this questionable assumptions. Calling themselves sceptics or debunkers, their list is so well-stocked both with well known names and talent, as it is the case of, for example, Donald Menzel, a Harvard astronomer and UFO myths hunter; the sceptical British subject Sir Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction writer, science promoter, underwater explorer and co-writer of 2001, a space Odyssey´s screenplay; James Oberg, who used to work for NASA´s control centre during several shuttle missions and the beginning of the international space station, and also expert on the Russian space program and journalist in his spare time; or the astronomer and former USAF pilot James Mc Gaha, discoverer of many celestial bodies, and who had access to several top-secret documents and classified information about the famous Area 51 (which possibly brought him valuable information), only to spend his life denying all media stories related to UFOs.

There are also more famous and popular characters who also dedicated themselves to debunker all these stories, such as the great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov, the famous astronomer Carl Sagan, the magician Harry Houdini or the astrophysicist and cosmologist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

One of the most media examples, however, and perhaps the most popular of all, is that of the “great” James Randi, a magician dedicated to disclose and rebut any kind of invention, being the main character of several documentaries and mocking countless impostors on live and in front of the cameras, some of them as famous as James Hydrick, Peter Popoff, Maureen Flynn or Uri Geller. Randi, in fact, created his own foundation, the James Randi Educational Foundation, where for twenty years, and among other things, he offered a one million dollars reward to whoever could show and prove any kind of supernatural or paranormal phenomenon, an award that remained desert, although on one occasion the famed medium Sylvia Browne accepted his challenge only to bail out later on arguing all kind of excuses. Famous is also Randi´s habit of practicing a “homeopathic suicide” just before each of his lectures or speeches, i.e. to take the entire content of a homeopathic sleeping pills bottle to demonstrate how they did not affected him at all and how homeopathic medicine has no effect.

(James Randi, giving an enjoyable speech on TED)

Nationally noteworthy are more modest figures of the Mexican settled in Spain Mauricio-Jose Schwarz, journalist and author of a blog and a series of informative and sceptical videos highly recommended, and also the youtuber Mister DBunker, many of whose recordings constitute a direct and frontal attack to “conspirators” with high doses of irony. In any case, there are also societies and circles of sceptics both in our country and all around the world for those who want to be informed or, at least, who do not want to be ill informed.

(James Randi, main character on the documentary Secrets of the Psychics)


Ignorance can be dangerous

While many of these stories may seem ridiculous, innocuous or even harmless, notorious cases of people who suffered painful and negative consequences due to them could be remembered.

Four years ago, for example, Caroline Lovell, defender of natural childbirth, died at her home in Melbourne precisely while giving birth, all due to a series of medical complications that caused a cardiac arrest she could not get treated for in time even if her carers tried to take her to a hospital.

When the well-known Steve Jobs was diagnosed with a pancreatic cancer he first decided to heal it with alternative medicine, this is acupuncture sessions, special fruit juices, visits to spiritualists and some other solutions she found on the Internet. When it became patent that he had not experienced any improvement for almost a year he finally agreed to undergo surgery and chemotherapy, but it was unfortunately too late for him, which caused his death at the end of 2011.

Dissipated life´s famous actor Charlie Sheen was diagnosed with HIV about four years ago. It has recently been known that, at a particular moment, the patient decided to entrust his health to a healer called Samir Chachoua, who recommended him to abandon conventional medication and eventually affirmed having healed him thanks to a treatment consisting of goat’s milk, which he even claimed it had eradicated AIDS from many countries, and which he applied without even having a medical license. Sheen has publicly denounced the healer not long ago, after checking that his illness had worsened after such treatment.

Anti-vaccines movement has been growing during the past years, especially in countries such as the USA, claiming all kinds of reasons for not applying this treatment to both adults and most especially, children. Now, several scientific studies have shown how previously controlled or virtually eradicated diseases, this thanks precisely to vaccines, have rebounded in widely developed countries such as the USA, as it is the case of measles, mumps, pertussis and varicella. These studies warn that, in certain cases, this incidence may have been caused in part because some vaccines effectiveness decrease over time, but that in most of the cases the source of the regrowth pointed clearly to non-vaccinated individuals who spread their disease.

Homeopathy has been discredited and considered a humbug several times, since to date there is no scientific evidence, beyond placebo effect, that shows or proves any kind of real or active effect on human body. However, its ‘medicines’ still are being sold, and not precisely at an affordable price. The same lack of evidences or results applies to reiki, feng-sui, acupuncture, voodoo, hand healers… not to mention astrology, seers, tarot, graphology, phrenology, gurus… people who, even though, are still active and go around making good business.

(A well explained view on what homeopathy actually is)

(Lee este artículo en español aquí)

2 responses to “The new 21st century quackery (part 4)

  1. Pingback: La nueva charlatanería del siglo XXI (parte 4) | marcosmarconius·

  2. Pingback: The new 21st century quackery (part 3) | marcosmarconius·

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