Jul 29 2008

Random Encounters with Woo

Published by under Uncategorized
Comments: 41

Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday and today is my birthday. If my wife had not had such a quick labor we might have shared a birthday, but Julia, my daughter, now nine, has declared that she is happy to have her own birthday that she doesn’t have to share with anyone else. I am bothering to tell you this as an explanation for the short and light entry today. Birthdays take precedence over blogging.


Our present to Julia was a weekend at a water park resort, and as an added treat she had the full manicure/pedicure at the kid’s spa – complete with a cup of ice cream while they worked on her. While waiting in line to pay (her sister and cousin joined her in the spa as well) my brother and fellow SGU host Bob and I noticed a sign advertising their chakra-aligning massage. Chakras are part of Eastern mysticism – centers of life energy in the body that control different aspects of life, such as consciousness or digestion. It’s pure, pre-scientific, magical thinking woo – but to Westeners has the exotic feel of another culture. It is otherwise no different than the belief that there is a small elf or goblin living in your stomach.

While Bob and I shared a snigger at the chakra massage, the attendant noticed we were looking at it and she gave us a serious dead-pan, “Oh, if your chakras are out of alignment then nothing will go right in your life.” I’m still not sure if this was a sales pitch or if she was a true-believe, but my sense is the latter, based upon her demeanor.

She then told me the total I owed for the three kiddie spa treatments, and as I handed over my plastic I declared, “My chakras are definitely out of alignment.”

Moon Hoax

On the way home I stopped in a mini-mart to get some milk so we would have it for breakfast the next morning. As I was paying for it the attendant was staring at my SGU T-shirt. After a perplexed moment he said, “I don’t understand your T-shirt.” I explained to him that The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe is a science podcast. After explaining to him what a podcast was we chatted briefly about content – science news, etc., and he asked if I did the show, which I do.

He then thought for a moment (all the while pausing before ringing up my milk), I suppose he was thinking something along the lines of – hey, I have a scientist here, what question do I really want to ask him. He then looked at me and said, “So, did we go to the moon?”

I have been doing the skeptical thing long enough to know that the average citizen, when given the opportunity to ask a science question, will typically focus on something pseudoscientific – a legacy, in my opinion, of mainstream media. I enjoy talking about real science and pseudoscience – both fascinate me – so it’s a fun conversation for me either way. I told him there was no question we went to the moon, and gave him the short version of how we know. He then came back with – but what about the fact that there are no stars in the pictures. So I explained to him some basic principles of photography, such as exposure, and that stars have very little light and need prolonged exposures. We ended with a discussion of the moon rocks, which have characteristics, such as zap pits from micro-meteors, that would have been harder to fake than to just go to the moon and get them.

By coincidence we just talked about this topic on SGU 5×5. We were joined by Phil Plait and indulged in a quick debunking of the moon hoax claims. I referred the attendant to Phil’s Bad Astronomy for more information if he was interested.

To the attendant’s credit (and perhaps to mine) he said as he finally rang up my milk that I had given him something to think about, and he seemed sincere. Perhaps that was his introduction to actual critical thinking and the notion that perhaps everything he sees on TV is not true – and may even be completely full of crap.

I can always be hopeful, especially on my birthday.

41 responses so far

41 Responses to “Random Encounters with Woo”

  1. ADR150on 29 Jul 2008 at 9:11 am

    what a great birthday story

    the first was funny, the second hopeful.

    im so inspired, i think ill get a SGU shirt for myself and see where it takes me.

  2. agentlionon 29 Jul 2008 at 9:56 am

    WAIT, WAIT, WAIT a minute here…..

    …. so you’re telling me that water parks have “kid’s spas” now, that offer mani/pedicures to 8 year olds?

    Now THAT’S the most outrageous thing in your whole post, i think

  3. jonny_ehon 29 Jul 2008 at 10:00 am

    And here I thought the only point to wearing an SGU shirt was to pick up chicks. Turns out it has other uses!

  4. Jim Shaveron 29 Jul 2008 at 10:24 am

    Thanks, Steve. I just ordered my very own SGU T-shirt (x-large, military green).

    Happy Birthday! And if I may say so, judging from your pictures, you’re looking amazing for 106. (Blame Rebecca.)

  5. Roseon 29 Jul 2008 at 10:34 am

    Happy Birthday! What a nice story.

  6. Purpson 29 Jul 2008 at 10:36 am

    Happy birthday Steven. You’re a legend.

  7. Niobeon 29 Jul 2008 at 10:42 am

    A pedicure for a 9 year old… some things are beyond reason.

  8. deciuson 29 Jul 2008 at 10:47 am

    Happy birthday, Steve.

  9. tai_fungon 29 Jul 2008 at 11:08 am

    Just to be clear:

    Moon landing conspiracy theorist = Mini Mart Clerk

    Skeptic and debunker = Medical Doctor

    Thank you, come again!

  10. mattdickon 29 Jul 2008 at 11:54 am

    Well… I also had daughter’s birthday this past week. Our daughters are 3 days apart in age. I totally understand the Chakra alignment problem you had at the moment of paying. We took my daughter to the American Girl store in Chicago.

    For those who don’t know, American Girl is a company that markets historically accurate dolls from a variety of different eras. The dolls come with back stories, accessories, books and some have movies about them. Generally these are of good quality, they are reasonably accurate as historical fiction, and don’t have the unrealistic body image of Barbie.

    The downside is that American Girl has figured out how to pull money from your wallet as you walk around their establishment. If I’d walked around the store that day while constantly throwing $100 bills I think the workers would have been instructed to ignore the money since they make more than that from just offering me their various services.

    They have a hair salon for your dolls. Seriously, I could have paid $10 to stand in line and wait for my daughter’s doll’s hair to be combed. So don’t be shocked that Steve’s daughter got a pedicure, at least he wasn’t as much of a sucker as I was.

    In all actuality, I don’t begrudge my daughter this luxury, we keep it to special occasions and it doesn’t get out of hand, but man, American Girl has something serious against my Chakra.

  11. Fifion 29 Jul 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Back in the day our moms used to just paint our toenails for us… After we’d walked 10 miles uphill backwards to rub the callouses off our feet, of course!

    The science behind it is that little girls are practicing to be like their moms and everyone loves shiny things! Sparkly is beautiful is one of the fundamental laws of nature 😉

  12. Cronanon 29 Jul 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Happy birthday.

  13. Von 29 Jul 2008 at 12:11 pm

    Happy Birthday, Steve! With any luck in the field of anti-aging research, you’ll still be alive way past 106.

  14. Fifion 29 Jul 2008 at 12:13 pm

    Sorry…distracted by sparkly things! Happy birthday Steven and thanks for sharing your brilliance with us via this blog.

  15. pecon 29 Jul 2008 at 12:16 pm

    Oh it must be so neat to be so smart and have ignorant non-scientists look up to you!

    But could you explain exactly how science has demonstrated that chakras are mere hallucinations and delusions?

  16. Skeptical Caton 29 Jul 2008 at 12:20 pm

    I can’t believe no one has done this yet…

    Woo Random Encounter Table
    d% Encounter
    1-10 Roll on Con-Artist Table
    11-14 1 Sylvia Browne
    15-17 1 Dean Radin
    18-20 1 Discovery Institute Fellow
    21-23 1d2 Dowsers
    24-26 1d2 Scientologists
    27-29 1d2+1 Acupuncturists
    30-32 1d2+1 Homeopaths
    33-35 1d3 Conspriracy theorists
    36-37 1 Ghost hunter + 1 EM Field detector
    38-41 1 Past-life regression therapist
    42-44 1 John Edward
    45-47 1d3 Anti-Vaccinationists + 1 Jenny McCarthy
    48-50 1 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    51-54 1 Kevin Trudeau + 1d6 “They”
    55-57 1d3 Phone Psychics
    58-60 1 Lake Monster + 1 Cryptozoologist
    61-64 1 Creationist + 1d3 PYGMIES + 1d3 DWARFS
    65-67 1 Global Warming Skeptic
    68-70 1 Virgin Mary on food item
    71-73 1 Perpetual Motion Machine
    74-76 1 AIDS denialist
    77-80 1 Crop Circle + 1 Cerealogist
    81-83 1 Geographical Feature + 1 Richard Hoagland
    84-86 1d2 Alien abductees + 1d2+1 UFO true believers
    87-88 1 Moon Hoaxer
    89 1 Deepak Chopra
    90 1 Time Cube
    91-00 Roll on Religious leader table

  17. Skeptical Caton 29 Jul 2008 at 12:21 pm

    Oh, and Pec:

    How’s that midget porn collection of yours doing?

  18. DevilsAdvocateon 29 Jul 2008 at 1:52 pm

    Happy birthday, Dr. Novella. Many happy returns.

    I have a daughter, now 13, with a birthday one day before mine. Which is to say that for the last 13 years I haven’t had a birthday:

    Happy birthday to yoooooou
    Happy birthday to yoooou
    Happy birthday dear Lauren
    Happy birthday to yooou!
    (Followed by multiple mumbling voices, out of unison, ‘oh, um, and daddy too…’)


    Then again, this makes me 39, not 52, so I’ll take it.

  19. deciuson 29 Jul 2008 at 2:08 pm


    would you care for defecating on the floor, before leaving the party?

  20. Michelle Bon 29 Jul 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Novella! Just imagine how you would have felt if your daughter insisted that you share her happy experience and get your nails painted all pretty and sparkling too?

    I no longer have any chakras as I have ate them all in one single gulp:


  21. BAon 29 Jul 2008 at 3:00 pm

    I was born the day before my father’s B-day and also was glad to not share the day. As I got older, I appreciated having a dual celebration but do not look forward to B-days when he is no longer around. Hopefully that will be a long ways down the road. Happy B-day to you both and thanks for the continual inspiration to politely but critically confront nonsense.

  22. jwittneron 29 Jul 2008 at 5:06 pm

    A most excellent happy birthday to you Dr. Novella. May the good times roll.

  23. mat alfordon 29 Jul 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Hey pec,

    Err… Looking around, I can only see one ignorant non-scientist here…

    And of course, happy birthday Steve.

  24. jgirvineon 29 Jul 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Happy Birthday to you and your daughter!

    This post was a fun read, have to get one of those t-shirts.

  25. DevilsAdvocateon 29 Jul 2008 at 8:53 pm


  26. HCNon 29 Jul 2008 at 11:20 pm

    Happy Birthday, Dr. Novella!

    Also, just wait for your daughters’ fourteenth birthday parties.

    This is where the basement is taken over by half a dozen young ladies who watch movies, play video games and practice with make-up in their own special version of the salon. The dying of the hair did go upstairs in the laundry room.

    Apparently our laundry room has become a favored place for the application of hair dye for some of my daughter’s friends. The reason is that it is has room to move around, a laundry sink with a hose to wash out the hair, and we don’t mind if there are random splatters on the floor or wall of blue, pink, green, magenta or what ever color is going into the hair.

    What you have to look forward to:

  27. John Piereton 29 Jul 2008 at 11:32 pm

    [Just getting in under the wire]

    Happy Birthday!

  28. Steve Pageon 30 Jul 2008 at 5:02 am

    Happy birthday, Steve, and happy belated birthday to Julia!

  29. Chris Hylandon 30 Jul 2008 at 5:45 am

    Happy (late) Birthday, Steve! 🙂 I have a friend who is very into chakras and all that nonsense — I am trying to persuade her to see the (purely metaphorical) light.

  30. Chris Hylandon 30 Jul 2008 at 6:47 am

    Just to add — I can’t access Science Based Medicine at all for some reason, just now. I’ve tried it on three computers now. Just me?

  31. neuroboy6on 30 Jul 2008 at 7:14 am

    Happy Birthday Steve,

    I love this site. I feel as if I have stumbled into a room full of kindred “spirits”!

    Great story.

    May you spiral around the sun many, many more times alive and well!

    Greg D

  32. Fifion 30 Jul 2008 at 8:23 am

    Chris – No not just you, there seem to be some technical difficulties since yesterday and sometimes I can access it and sometimes not. I suspect it’s just coincidence but it is worth noting that this happened just after everyone had agreed to just ignore pec (who claims to have a degree in computer science and to write code, though this may be quite untrue). It did provide a nice glimpse into what discussions in these blogs would be like without the trolls – you know, constructive! 🙂

  33. weingon 30 Jul 2008 at 8:37 am

    I noticed that too. It’s probably just a coincidence, but…

  34. Nitpickingon 30 Jul 2008 at 9:02 am

    Happy birthday, Doctor.

    Oh, and why apologize for this excellent blog post?

  35. Feboon 30 Jul 2008 at 9:51 am

    Happy Birthday, Ste- Wait, wait wait…

    You’re saying there is NOT a small elf or goblin in my stomach???

    What is it then, a Gnome?

  36. Tom Nielsenon 30 Jul 2008 at 12:00 pm

    Happy birthday, Steven.

    You have to plant seeds everywhere. I sure as hell use all opportunities I get to spread the skepticism around.

    Pec, have you ever heard the poker phrase “If you can’t spot the sucker at the table, you are it.”?… Well Pec, we can sure as heck spot the sucker, can you?

  37. jeffhsu3on 30 Jul 2008 at 1:37 pm

    Happy Birthday,
    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I really enjoy it!

  38. Roy Nileson 30 Jul 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Pec’s problem lies is in trying to figure out why the presumed suckers at the table are all having such a streak of luck.

  39. Oracon 31 Jul 2008 at 9:50 am

    Happy birthdays.

    Actually, the town where I live is packed full of woo. There are multiple chiropractors; there’s a “health store” that sells the Kinoki Detox Footpads and many other forms of woo; etc.

    In fact, mocking me as I drive to and from work each day is a large and prominent “energy healing center,” as well as a psychic advertising “psychic and angel readings.”

  40. Calli Arcaleon 01 Aug 2008 at 1:49 pm

    They have a hair salon for your dolls. Seriously, I could have paid $10 to stand in line and wait for my daughter’s doll’s hair to be combed. So don’t be shocked that Steve’s daughter got a pedicure, at least he wasn’t as much of a sucker as I was.

    Regarding American Girls dolls, this actually isn’t as silly as it might sound. The American Girls collection are meant to be collector’s items, along the same lines as the Madame Alexander dolls and other high-end dolls. One problem with all of them is the synthetic hair. It gets tangled very easily, especially if a child plays with the doll. Untangling it is a nightmare, and it is very easy to damage it. Hence, the doll hair salon. They’ll undo the horrendous snarls for you. Honestly, having spent hours trying to unsnarl the hair of my Kirstin doll, I’d consider $10 a bargain.

  41. deciuson 02 Aug 2008 at 5:17 am

    The American Girls collection are meant to be collector’s items


Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.