Dec 18 2018

Worst Pseudoscience of 2018

I don’t usually do lists, but I do find it interesting to look back over the past year and review major events and trends. It’s good for the memory, and the exercise always reminds me of how terrible memory is. I often realize that I forgot about major events, and also have a poor sense of how far in the past certain events occurred. (Was that this year or last year?)

So here are the pseudosciences from 2018 that I think deserve to be remembered. I am going to list them in no particular order, and just keep adding them until I run out of time.

Climate Change Denial

It does seem that 2018 may have been a bit of a turning point for the recognition that climate change is real, imminent, and deserving of far more attention and priority than we are giving it. There were multiple reports all agreeing that essentially the problem is worse than we thought, we have less time than we thought, and we better get cracking. The IPCC, for example, pointed out that even if we keep warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, an ambitious and probably not achievable goal, bad things will still happen, just not as bad if warming goes beyond that point. A US government report echoes this, adding that further warming will be economically damaging and it is cost-effective to prevent it rather than deal with the consequences.

Several surveys also show that people are increasing concerned about climate change. Even some conservatives admit they were wrong on climate change. Even the writers of South Park admitted their prior error in an apology series of episodes to Al Gore.

Therefore, perhaps the worse pseudoscientists of 2018 is anyone still denying that climate change is a real problem that needs to be dealt with. The denialist strategies have not changed – no, the Earth is not warming, well if it is it’s not due to human causes, well even if we are causing it the results won’t be bad, well even if they will be bad there is nothing we can do about it anyway, and whatabout China? Like all pseudosciences they start with the desired conclusion – that we don’t need to do anything about it, just keep burning fossil fuels, and then they reverse engineer a justification for that conclusion.

When you point out that there is a solid and growing scientific consensus on the reality and causes of climate change, they resort to conspiracy theories. Those scientists are all liberal activists, or they are just trying to goose their grants.

The clock is ticking, and climate change denialists are probably causing the most harm of any pseudoscientists.

 

Release Active Drugs

I admit this may be on the list due to a bias toward recent items, but I do think that inventing a new pseudoscience brand is worthy of mention. A Russian company, OOO ‘NPF ‘Materia Medica Holding’ (I learned that the OOO is the equivalent of LLC in Russian), has been selling products they call release active drugs. The short version is that these are basically homeopathy, diluted out of all existence. Homeopathy has been increasingly on the ropes lately, because the emperor has no clothes and the illusion is only sustainable for so long. Homeopathy’s business model has essentially been to hide from their customers what it really is.

Once people find out that it is only magic water, most realize that it is also worthless. So this Russian company decided to hide the true nature of their homeopathic products even deeper, but inventing new jargon and names to enhance the deception. It’s still worthless homeopathy. Now they are trying to export their products to the West, and flooding marginal journals with crappy studies to promote their brand. We need to nip this in the bud, but it may already be too late. The company makes millions of dollars, and that buys you a lot of pseudoscience promotion.

 

Astrology

Yeah, I know. Astrology? But this classic pseudoscience is making a comeback in 2018. Millenials are apparently enamored with it. Dr. Oz has been promoting astrology, offering advice on what it can tell you about your health (quick version – absolutely nothing).

Astrology will serve as a representative on this list for all the classic pseudosciences that never completely go away. They lurk on the fringe awaiting a new generation to bamboozle with the same old nonsense. Give it a generation and anything seems fresh again. This is one role for the skeptical movement – to serve as a collective cultural memory for the pseudoscience and nonsense of the past, so that when it tries to make a comeback we can provide some quick debunking.

Astrology is still 100% complete and utter superstition. The position of the planets and stars have zero effect on you. Their gravity is negligible, their light is faint, and don’t try to invoke quantum mechanics. Further, why would their relative position as viewed from the Earth at the moment of one’s birth matter? It cracks me up when some astrologers claim that sun-sign astrology is fake, because you need to base astrological charts on the minute of birth, within a four-minute window. So – how did all those ancient astrologers know when people were born to within four minutes? The answer is – they didn’t. You probably don’t know when you were born within four minutes. Having been present at multiple hospital births, I can tell you the time is recorded when someone remembers to do it after the fact. It’s probably accurate within 10 minutes or so, but those in the room have more important details on their mind.

In any case – there is hardly a more clear example of pre-scientific superstition than astrology, and it amazes me still that a 21st century mind can accommodate it.

 

Cancer Quacks

They are on the list every year, because they are pernicious and target a highly vulnerable population – those that sell or promote fake cures to cancer victims. They will be the stand in for all those who promote fake medicine. In August of 2017 a study came out showing that cancer patients who use “alternative medicine” die more quickly. So in 2018 if you are still promoting cancer quackery, you are doing it in the face of this evidence.

Not that this is surprising – if you are selling fake cures to seriously ill and desperate patients, you are either a true-believer impervious to evidence, or you are a psychopath.

 

Anti-Vaxxers

Again – they are on the list every year. They deserve special mention this year because of the return of measles, due mostly to vaccine deniers. This is the second worst year since the vaccine in the US, beat out only by 2014 because of several outbreaks among the Amish. In Europe alone, the first half of 2018 had 41,000 measles cases, more than any entire year this decade. The recent surge is due to the anti-vaccine movement, which survives on conspiracy theories, misinformation, and echochambers.

Vaccines are arguably the most effective public health measure humans have invented, with an incredible risk to benefit ratio and cost-effectiveness. This has not stopped non-experts from deciding to give harmful medical advice based upon their own ignorance and conspiracy theories they read on the internet.

Special mention goes to anyone in political office who is anti-vaccine, like new representative Mark Green from Tennessee. Green gets a double demerit for also being an MD. His training, however, did not stop him from saying something as silly as:

“Let me say this about autism,” Green said. “I have committed to people in my community, up in Montgomery County, to stand on the CDC’s desk and get the real data on vaccines. Because there is some concern that the rise in autism is the result of the preservatives that are in our vaccines.

It is amazing that after two decades anti-vaxxers are still flogging the dead horse of vaccines and autism. But again, imperviously to actual evidence is a hallmark of pseudoscience.

 

This is an incomplete list, and perhaps I will extend it on my next post. Feel free to give me suggestions in the comments.

Like this post? Share it!

No responses yet