Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Pseudoscience Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking


I’ve decided to chill this weekend after five years of insanity. However, while you anxiously await yet another hemidecade of Insolence, both Respectful and not-so-Respectful, what better way to do so than checking out the awesome Tim Minchin and his most excellent nine minute beat poem “Storm”:

Who says skepticism and art don’t mix?

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

31 replies on ““Storm””

Posted this on my Facebook back when I first learned of it from PZ, and it made a few Woo-sters none too happy! Especially the FBFriend who is a dead ringer for Storm.

Humor helps make the point better than my usual rants.

Don’t you wish you could be Tim Minchin sometimes? I can think of so many times when I’ve just clammed up while some dimwit goes on about aura’s or some such nonsense.

Oh, yay! I’d heard “Storm” before, but never seen video of him performing it. Thanks for posting this!

That’s so cool. All skeptical rebuttals should rhyme. Any chance that the next Friday Dose of Woo will be in poem format?

I saw Tim Minchin perform this in Bangalow, Australia. Home to some heavy duty concentrated woo and Australias own anti-vax lobby, the Australian Vaccination Network. I wasn’t quite able to enjoy myself, as I was afraid he wouldn’t walk out of there alive! Brilliant piece, tho!!!

I’m forwarding this to all of my religious relatives and woo-filled friends who keep sending me email memes. You know, *those* emails. Jesus. Angels. The Evils of Medication. Happiness through soul-massage. *headdesk*

Tim demonstrates with startling clarity the power of comedy to deliver truth to many who would otherwise choose not to hear it.

In Perth this week too! Yay!

Whoa! Wait. What? Skepticism equals atheism? Really?

If a rule has an exception, is it really a rule, then? Because I know of one exception whose spiritual direction might set him apart from those men… And women, who think that all things natural, even those things so spectacular, must have plausible explanation and so don’t deserve an Amen. Because he looks up at the stars, thinks of Earth compared to Mars, and thinks it’s not all just an accident.

I’m just sayin’.

#12: Pretty much, yeah, unless you can find a signature on a fjord somewhere.

Your concern is noted.

@ Rene…

Seriously? Someone looks up in the night sky, sees the stars, contemplates the moon and the solar system, imagination runs wild and concludes all this can’t be an “accident.” Therefore, god? Heh-heh.

Rene Najera
Scepticism doesn’t equal atheism, but my experience has been that being a sceptic doesn’t lead to one thing: increased religiosity and superstition. To date, all the sceptics I have met have been Atheists and I doubt this is only endemic to Canada’s National Capital Region.

Oh, yay! I’d heard “Storm” before, but never seen video of him performing it.

Same here. It’s so much better to be able to see him recite the poem: from the perfectly timed sips from the glass to the apologetic shrugs to his wife.

Thanks, guys. I get it. Absence of evidence (i.e. no signature on a fjord) is evidence of absence. Unfortunately, I can’t operate on that concept in Public Health. But, you know, whatever… (*walks away, whistling by the grave yard).

Rene Najera

If someone presents a claim that does not stand up to scrutiny and that has nothing to support it, it is worth discarding unless:
1. Further evidence is presented to support the claim
2. There is good reason to believe that the claim should be investigated further
3. The claims are so serious and plausible that not investigating further would be tantamount to criminal negligence.

This applies to public health concerns as well as it does to belief in God.

– Claims of God’s existence have been presented.
– No evidence supporting these claims has yet been presented (mere speculation about things unknown is interesting, but seriously lacking any evidence that could lead us to creating a theory).
– The claims are serious (if you worry about burning in hell and such) and many examine them very closely, but there is still no bloody evidence for them.

Your smug attitude is not only unjustified; it also makes you look like a fool. Scepticism and the scientific method is used in public health as well as in the examination of woo claims of all sorts.

But, you know, whatever… (*walks away, whistling by the grave yard).

Ultimately, that’s pretty much the response one expects from the likes of you, Rene. Well done.

Unfortunately, I can’t operate on that concept in Public Health.

Is anyone else confused about this statement? I’m not even trying to criticize Rene (right now), I just don’t really grok what this statement is supposed to mean….?

Thanks, guys. I get it. Absence of evidence (i.e. no signature on a fjord) is evidence of absence. Unfortunately, I can’t operate on that concept in Public Health.

In which case, I suggest that you immediately start a campaign warning everyone of Martian Head-Exploding Flu. There may be no evidence for its existence, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, and it is potentially a very serious health risk for earthlings.

Skepticism doesn’t mean atheism. A lot of skeptics with religious faith I know have a couple general rules: Know what’s a religious belief and know what’s scientific knowledge, and don’t mix the religion into science or policy, ever. If science disproves your religion, change your religion. Basically, it’s okay to believe something you can’t prove as long as a) you change it if it’s proven wrong, b) you accept you might be wrong, c) you never make any assumptions in science or policy based on that knowledge, and d) you never, ever try to convince anyone to believe as you do, because after all, there’s no evidence.

For me, this means that even though there is zero evidence of reincarnation, I believe in it. Yet I still consider myself a skeptic. Why? Because I know I might be wrong, I will accept evidence that disproves it (though I do not demand anyone disprove it, that’s not their job), and I do not expect anyone else to believe it– no proselytizing, no converting, etc. Since my belief is not based in anything substantial, I always say “I personally believe in reincarnation,” never “Reincarnation is real.” The important thing is to understand that your belief is not based on evidence, and thus is not fact nor should it ever be treated as such.


I know a lot of people like hiding behind NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) or some version thereof, but this does not justify why scepticism doesn’t lead to lack of belief in God. Compartmentalising your life to ensure that part of it is free from free and sceptical inquiry doesn’t mean that one can be a sceptic and a theist; it means that one can be a sceptic at times.

In other words, your conclusion doesn’t follow your premises (non sequitur).

Great discussion, guys. Thanks. And, Dr. Frank, I’ll warn about the disease the minute we have our index case. The folks at the MMWR will get a kick out of it. Thanks!

It’s entirely possible to be a rational sceptic in most walks of life, and yet be religious. Rational people who believe in God must, however, accept that rationalism does not apply in the case of faith. They must, and do, treat it as something other, something outside of the domain of science and rational thought. It is by definition irrational to believe something with no evidence beyond our undeniable desire for it to be true.

Personally I do not dismiss the possibility of there being a god, although I consider it incredibly unlikely. I tolerate the separation of unprovable faith questions from other matters, it helps us all get along better and by itself does no harm. I do however object to religious books, figures, and institutions – the construct of man – being protected from rational thought.

Also, I do love Tim Minchin 🙂


“I do not dismiss the possibility of there being a god”

You should.
The only sort of god comnsistent with the evidence is the deistic (non-interventionist) god and no one believes in him because there is no reason to – he does not promise an afterlife.
Children believe in faeries because they bring them money for a lost tooth. What would be the point in believing in them if they didin’t.


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