Antivaccine nonsense Blogging Medicine Quackery Skepticism/critical thinking

Does all this blogging about quackery really accomplish anything?

Believe it or not, after nearly eight years blogging and around five years before that cutting my skeptical teeth on that vast and wild (and now mostly deserted and fallow) wilderness that was Usenet, I have occasionally wondered whether what I’m doing is worthwhile. Sometime around 1998, after I first discovered Holocaust denial on Usenet, and a year or so after that, I found the home of all quackery on Usenet, From around 1998 to 2004, Usenet was my home, and that’s where I fought what I thought to be the good fight against irrationality, antiscience, and quackery. Then, around December 2004, on a whim after having read a TIME Magazine article on blogging, I sat down in front of my computer, fired up Blogspot and started the first iteration of this blog, which still actually exists as an archive for some of my early work. (Hey, if you’re new, you might want to go there and read a few of what I consider to be “classic” posts. Just ignore the horrendous template. Hey, I thought it was kind of cool at the time.) Then, in early 2006, I joined ScienceBlogs, and, inexplicably, I’m still here. Given that a six year time might as well be six decades in Internet time, it is truly amazing that I’m still here.

In any case, what got me doing the blog navel-gazing thing that so annoys some people and that, mercifully, I rarely do was a post by a fellow fighter of the good fight, who confesses to a crisis of faith:

I’ve been away from the blog for a little bit because I had to take care of some stuff at home, at work, and everywhere in between. That, and I had a little bit of a crisis of faith. Not “Faith” faith, but just faith. I started questioning whether or not it was worthwhile to keep up this blog, keep working on “The Poxes”, and keep up my other extracurricular activities regarding combating anti-vaccine and anti-science forces.

After all, only two kinds of people show up on this blog: those who agree with science and those who vehemently oppose it. There are very few, if any, people who are in between visiting this blog. Alright, there are very few, if any, people who are in between telling me that they have been visiting this blog. I call them the “silent in-betweeners”.

Basically, this problem resonated with me, because for the most part I have the same issue. It’s not just in my vaccine posts, either (although those posts do tend to be the most polarizing). It’s in every post that deals with quackery and pseudoscience. Some of my posts about Stanislaw Burzynski, for example, have resulted in the influx of of Burzynski supporters arguing for their hero, against which my regulars argued brilliantly. The same thing regularly happens when I discuss issues such as death by alternative medicine, Andrew Wakefield, and various other issues. It’s not a problem unique to vaccines. It’s what happens whenever rationality takes on nearly any form of pseudoscience.

That being said, vaccines do appear to be among the worst, as far as bringing home the polarization, but to me that means that this is an area where I can do the most good. Like our blogger suffering a crisis of faith, I want to reach these silent in-betweeners. I realized long ago (and have said so many times) that the die-hard antivaccinationists are not people whose minds can be changed. It’s pointless even to try; if you do, you will become rapidly frustrated at your failure. Neither you nor I will be likely to be able to change the minds of the likes of J.B. Handley, Barbara Loe Fisher, Ginger Taylor, Jake Crosby, Dan Olmsted, and the like. It’s just not going to happen; they are as committed to their antivaccine faith as any fanatic is to his religion. Indeed, in my eight years of blogging, I can’t point to a single die-hard antivaccinationist whose mind I’ve changed.

On the other hand, I can point to e-mails from parents who were in doubt about vaccines who were reassured by reading my posts, both here and elsewhere. Equally importantly, I can point to e-mails from people who cite me as having helped them along their road out of woo and towards rationality. I’m not going to exaggerate. I don’t get a lot of these e-mails, maybe a dozen a year or less, but I do get them. Whenever I get such an e-mail, I can’t tell you how good it makes me feel. I feel as though I’ve succeeded in one of the major tasks that any human being can do. I also get the feeling that there must be more out there than the handful of e-mails that I get. After all, not everyone who’s affected that way will bother to write me, and, my massively egotistical blog persona notwithstanding, I don’t labor under the delusion that I’m the only one affecting those who manage to take the hard steps from credulity to skepticism, from magic to science. There are too many other skeptical bloggers out there, some of whom have been around longer than I have and some of whom are better at different areas than I am, some of whom are more prolific than I am.

There’s also another reason why I keep going, and it’s a selfish one. I love blogging, and I really like the niche in the blogosophere that I’ve made for myself. Does anyone think that I’d spend as much time doing what I’m doing that I do it almost every day, month after month, year after year? It’s a passion that drives me. If you don’t have the passion, you probably shouldn’t be doing this. You might last a while, but you won’t last indefinitely. I also take a lot of abuse for what I do. In actuality, it goes back before I even started this blog, when some neo-Nazi pinheads circulated a post all over Usenet that they referred to Nizkor NAMBLA. Nizkor is a website that’s been around since the 1990s that provides evidence-based rebuttals to the lies of Holocaust deniers. I never had anything to do with Nizkor, but that didn’t stop them from lumping me with a bunch of others who combatted online Holocaust denial in a truly hilariously inept list of “NAMBLA members.” And, of course, after I started blogging, periodically some crank or antivaccinationist or other would find out who I was and try to get me in trouble with my job. It freaked me out the first time it happened back in 2005, but I soon realized that my bosses recognized these clowns for what they were, cranks, and ignored them. The most recent attempt in 2010 actually helped me in that my dean actually offered her full-throated support and asked me if I felt that I needed protection. Obviously, I still think it’s worth it.

There’s also another benefit. I have learned so much doing this. I now know more about vaccines and immunology than I ever have before. I’ve learned all about logical fallacies, history, and areas of medicine into which I would never have ventured if not for blogging. I’ve even learned a lot about my own specialty, cancer. Before I started blogging about overdiagnosis, cancer heterogeneity, and other issues, I didn’t actually know that much about the topics. Now I do. It’s even translated into some minor academic recognition. Just last month I was invited to my second academic conference to give a talk solely on the basis of my reputation blogging, both here and at my other blogging location.

Finally, I can’t neglect the people. Over the years, I’ve accumulated an awesome set of regular commenters who have my back. I have a demanding day job. That means that, while I can produce these blog posts on a regular basis, I can’t produce these blog posts in a regular basis if I have to be the one also defending them against the inevitable antivaccine, antiscience, and pro-quackery trolls who regularly invade my comments. Then I got to meet some of you at various skeptical events, such as TAM and speaking engagements. I’ve put faces to some of the names, and I know that, in certain cities at least, I can always count on there being people there with whom I can hang out if I happen to be at a surgical or research meeting there.

Finally, all of this brings us back to the question of a “crisis of faith.” Like our blogger, some of what drives me is this:

I mean, I try to answer these questions as much as I can, but I’m going on what I think the questions are and against what the anti-science forces have said. Because they — the anti-science — are surely filling someone’s mind with all sorts of [expletive] lies. And that irritates the hell out of me, because people who should know better, and many times do, are misinforming people out of things like chemotherapy for cancer, vaccines for vaccine-preventable diseases, and even antibiotics for infections.

The bottom line is that all of us bloggers, whatever we blog about, have our own reasons for doing what we do. I’ve just blathered a bit about mine. In the end, however, you have to really love what you do, as I do. Sure, I have the occasional “crisis of faith” (although I don’t call it that, obviously) in which I wonder whether what I do is getting through to anyone. It doesn’t take much to make me realize that However, I love doing this so much that these crises rarely last very long and have rarely made me seriously wonder whether I should stop doing what I’m doing. The same is not necessarily true for everyone. I hope it’s not true for The Poxes Blog. We supporters of science need all the allies we can get.

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]

109 replies on “Does all this blogging about quackery really accomplish anything?”

Yes, you ARE accomplishing something! Not too long ago, I was knee-deep in woo and for years I had been fully-committed to anti-vaccine lunacy. Your blog kept getting in the way of my Google “research”; at first I would scoff and go back to my Googling, but eventually I was so intrigued just couldn’t turn away. Once under Orac’s spell, I abandoned the woo. I am a daily reader of RI (and The Poxes!) but rarely feel intelligent enough to comment; I may be top dog on the mommy forums, but I’m out of my league here.

You are overlooking the huge service you are providing to us “who agree with science”, but who don’t necessarily have the chops to bring down the woo as thoroughly . I, for one, learn a ton of stuff from reading your blog (among a few others). Think of it as an ongoing informal science/medicine class with a very large class size. Oh, and I look forward to reading the lessons!

I suspect that there are more people who are convinced to give up the woo than openly announce themselves. They probably don’t feel they can announce a change of heart without endangering their social position (adopting beliefs like those is a HUGE emotinal investment); but I’m sure some of them do change their minds, and at least quietly retire from the fight.

So yeah, the accomplishments you look for aren’t always visible.

The frequency with which proponents of CAM appear on skeptical blogs to say that skeptical bloggers are wasting their time, and should be writing about something else, suggests that skeptical bloggers are not wasting their time.

Maybe OT, maybe not.

Mark Crislip posted today a few random thoughts on Science-Based Medicine.

(funny how grammar works – “on science-based medicine” could be both the place where the post is, or the topic, and both interpretations are actually true)


For rebuttal to the most common Vaccines R Evil memes, I simply use your blog posts. They say everything I would say, only much better.

I’d say there’s value there.

I read RI regularly but have never commented here before. I find this blog and a handful of others a priceless source of reference material, logical argument and in depth analysis. I am not involved in medicine at all but I do live in area where the background levels of “woo” in the community are dangerously high and with frightening amounts of opposition to vaccines for example. The methodical way the latest fashions in woo are dissected and shown to be nonsense give me the ammunition to carry on the fight. I haven’t explained myself very well, but without your patient take downs of popular alternative medecine to inspire me I would not have been as convincing in my arguments against woo. As such the power of this blog reaches beyond its immediate readership. So thank you!

One of the most important reasons to say anything is not because you’re going to convince people who disagree with you, but because it’s important to have dissenting voices, to counter “Everyone knows…” and “Everyone agrees that…”. One of the reasons irrational ideas win is that rational people are the first to recognize the poor return on their efforts, because, well, they’re rational, and a cost/benefit analysis (I’m talking in terms of more abstract benefits, not actual money, of course, but time invested vs. minds changed) tells them they’re wasting their time. Unfortunately, in an irrational world, irrational actions are often the only rational ones: You can influence a cultural consensus without ever being able to show you’ve changed a single person’s mind. Simply having your voice out there matters. Think “Life of Brian”, where the crowd chants, “Yes, We Are All Individuals!”, and the one poor shmuck pipes up “I’m not!”. If you’re rational, it’s your role to be that one poor shmuck.

I came here years ago because of cancer quackery that killed my Aunt. I stayed for all the rest, as I have 3 kids at vaccination ages. your blog started me on a quest for facts. I now blog and facebook often exposing bullshit on many levels and get a lot of positive response. And I’m the demographic you think you don’t reach. I’m uneducated (can’t count film school as college, if I’m to be honest), a stay at home mom of 3, surrounded by the “go natural” movement and I have a mom who over the years has fallen into an ocean of woo and homeopathy. There are some who are convinced, or who feel their personal honor rides on their beliefs, but many are listening, and repeating, your message. Thanks for being here!


This is our local talk/discussion public radio show. The topics were swine flu (first death this year right here in Ohio) and West Nile Virus.


Dr. Mary DiOrio (State Epidemiologist for the Ohio Department of Health)
Dr. Tony Forshey (State Veterinarian for the Ohio Department of Agriculture)
Luke Jacobs (Section Chief in the Division of Environmental Health for Columbus Public Health)

A woman called in with a question about Lyme disease. She is being treated for Lyme disease and asked if the guests knew that Lyme disease could be transmitted by mosquitoes as well as deer ticks. [You may wish to look at the credentials of the guests listed above.]

There was a significant pause before the response that Lyme disease is NOT transmitted by mosquitoes. The caller then responded [paraphrase] “I can help educate you by giving the name of the doctor who is treating me.”.

I am beginning to become very weary of the verb “educate” being used to mean “expose one to misinformation”.

Since my speakers aren’t working, I can’t tell you exactly when in the program this happened, but it’s probably in the last twenty minutes.

Orac, it is awesome of you to show this support for The Poxes Blog and its author. Blogging is really hard work: it takes a lot of time and energy to come up with a topic, research it and write out the post. And when you’re not sure whether or not it makes a difference with people (or if they’re even reading it), it’s so easy to just give it up and move off to some other activities.

I’ve learned a lot from you, Phil Plait and others. Rather ironically, it was the actions of the anti-vaccine folks at Age of Autism that pushed me into starting up my own blog. That led me to learn even more about a very narrow subject. Hopefully I’ll be able to expand my range, like you, if I stick it out long enough.

Oh, and about skeptical blogs’ accomplishments:

Reading your blog certainly refined my opinions on vaccines (less black and white, but more strongly established at the same time) and provided me with arguments to bring to a debate.
Not that I’m that good a debater, but still…

It also forced me to search for citations to support my arguments, something I am lazy to do (and I’m a scientist – shame on me).

Finally, being exposed to the rebuttal of various woo prepared me for when friends started talking about it in real life. The debates on these threads or other blogs also showed me that being confrontational is generally not a good move (thanks Phil Plait’s “Don’t be a dick”), but civilly providing counter-arguments and clearly calling a woo-theory stupid is.

A few month ago, I had a discussion with a friend about alkaline diets. Despite being a biologist, she and her husband were falling for it. Because I read about these diets here or in other skeptical websites, I was able to immediately point out that the body is perfectly able to deal with acidity – just think of the amount of acid produced by your stomach every day – and that these diets are nothing but the official advice of “eat your greens, and eat less meat” with the serial number filled of. That was enough for her to question her beliefs.

Truly, knowledge is power. And you and your fellow scientific bloggers provide it.

Ye of small faith, never give up the good work! Or in less biblical manner, I can offer my own conversion story and the effect skeptical bloggers have had on me.

I got sucked into natural and alt-med world because of acne. Long story short, my acne laughed at anything dermatologists and doctors threw at it. In desperation I became an altie. And in the process wasted 8 years of my life and god knows how many brain cells died because of all the logical fallacies. Then I happened on Skeptoid and The Skeptic’s Guide to The Universe. Little bit later you could hear the pin drop. Conversion completed and my mind was liberated. So thank you for playing part in the rebirth of my brain!

A few months back I started a blog that offers rational advice about natural and alternative acne treatment, I hope that I can affect others who were in the same place I was. Basically desperate for solution and already one foot in the door into the altie world.

Acne blogosphere is nothing but alt-met and woo at the moment. The most popular blogger just posted a video on how connecting to earth helps her deal with emotional issues. Another popular blogger just raved about her reiki session.

It’s bad. Really bad. Detoxing, colon cleansin and liver flushing are pretty much taken as granted. Not too long ago somebody enthusiastically recommended iridology. TCM, Aturveda and Naturopathic (non-)medicine are also among the staple.

To my knowledge mine is the only blog that offers skeptical and critical view on these things. I find that it’s very helpful to have high-profile skeptical blogs that cover a range of topics as reference to link to. So when somebody starts chriping about homeopathy or colon cleanse (or perhaps in combination where homeopathy follows colon cleanse and where the output of the colon cleanse is used as homeopathic remedy – all disease begins in colon, after all) it’s useful to point to well-written and reasoned arguments against them.

So keep up the good fight. You are making a difference!

I’ll add myself in the number of your convert 🙂 I was a fence-sitter, in between science and woo, and then I started to read your blog and well, the rest is history as they say.

I have also started to point your blog to other people, in attempt to gain follower and to put them out of the bad woo.

About this: would you mind me translating some of your post in Italian? Many in my country can’t speak english very well, or at all, and I would like to point some of your post sometime.

Keep up the good work, please!

I echo the senitment that this blog has made me a better debater. It also has helped to NOT argue when faced with a true believer. A co-worker recently told me he believed 100 per cent that 9/11 was an inside job. I think he was waiting for me to debate him. When I said that I wouldn’t argue with someone 100 per cent certain on a subject I could see him deflate a little. In the past, I may have tried arguing with him but this blog (and others of course) have taught me the value of picking your fights…….so thanks!

First off, I guess I’ve got another blog (the poxes?) to look at now.

RI and the SBM blog have been great resources for me as a skeptic. Whenever discussions come up (especially with fairly reasonable people) about various health topics, I can usually go and find a few relevant articles at one place or the other and put up a link. The only problem sometimes is finding the right article.

I’m one of the parents you (along with Esther at Mainstream Parenting) convinced, on vaccines and other subjects. Still reading, no longer wasting money on acupuncture.

This post seems to be baiting us for an Orac love-fest, but I’ll bite. Three ways blogs like this help me that may not be apparent:

1. Personal information: A few years back, I had some back trouble and a chiropractor was suggested. I vaguely knew of some controversy there, but not what it was. In searching for information, I found Science Based Medicine and that introduced me to the broader science based medicine community. Needless to say, I did not visit a chiropractor.

2. Knowledge to share: I frequently encounter people pushing various forms of woo on others (hazard of being in a professional, west-coast community). In the past, I would counter with “That sounds like garbage.” Now I can say “That is garbage and here is why…” Thus, blogs such as this help people who don’t even know they exist.

3. Research pitfalls: As a medical researcher myself, I appreciate the dissection of bad arguments that comes with this blog. I have caught myself and others falling into the same traps. For one, I was susceptible to the ecological fallacy.

Don’t let’s forget that Orac gives a ton of free ammo to supporters of science-based medicine that we can use in our own life. Call it, for a lack of a better term, a distributed denial of stupidity (DDoS) attack.

I’ve been one of the silent lurkers for over a year now and I can truly say that this blog has helped me fight back against a woo-infused upbringing as well as being a great place to point my science-oriented fence sitting friends to for factual vaccine information. Because of you and your commenters, I have learned how to hold my own in “debates” about vaccine fears, which I knew were wrong, but until I found this blog not how to prove to them why it was wrong.
On a more personal level your posts on cancer research and general cancer quackery have prevented my mother from wasting precious time and money pursuing alt med treatments as she had done her entire adult life for other ailments.
I never commented before because I feel that I have nothing to add to the already brilliant regulars, but it is high time to tell you I am here and listening and so are many of my converted friends!

Armed with a rusty biological sciences degree and a tab on my toolbar to your blog, I regularly venture forth into Aussie based forums to combat the anti vax/science/ pro woo discussions. I know that a Google search of RI combined with cntrl F will reliably pinpoint whatever altie guru name someone is frothing about, or lead me to a starting point for citations. I am in awe of most regular contributors, and have been know to re-quote some pithy comebacks, ie:
“I am also outspoken against the over-vaccination of children. Just as soon as there’s any real evidence children are being overvaccinated, I’ll be sure to speak out.” (kd, back in March)

I was very pro-vaccine in a really crunchy new mom group. I found this blog during my search for more information to smack down their arguments (thanks!). However, I was pretty open to other areas of woo and had confused homeopathic with home remedy (I know…I know…I just didn’t know). This blog set me straight on a lot of stuff, caused me to dump my accupuncturist AND leave the mom group. I have a really woo-happy mother-in-law and your blog has given me the knowledge to keep my husband from following her lead. I’ve meant to email you thanks for a while, but just haven’t. In short: you’ve saved my ass a ton of money and have kept my child away from crazy treatments in favor of science-based medicine. I had great critical thinking skills in life, but somehow hadn’t applied this to medicine and science. I do now!!

Because I enjoy providing grist for mills and fuel for fires…

I am motivated first and foremost, by the lurkers: I imagine them in the dark cavern-y emptiness of cyberspace- listening silently, suspending judgment and seeking a glimpse of a glimmer that might lead them toward a closer mental representation of an approximation of whatever reality might be. And they are out there and they occasionally step forward in appreciation. I really like them!

Secondly, I am sad to report that alt med nonsense on the web appears to be growing exponentially because of technologocal advances- facebook, videostreaming and phone apps all are utilised in spreading the gospel of pseudoscience. Websites like Age of Autism procreate and the resultant unruly children are the Canary Party and TMR. Woo-meisters like Adams and Null envision themselves as media empire builders who may be dis-contented to be purely purveyors of health mis-informational b#llsh!t but fancy themselves to be leaders of political, economic and religious thought movements. Recently both have engaged in hateful speech about their own country and its leaders as surely as they do about SBM, education and most normal folks’ lifestyle. Venom and seething hatred encourage their followers to follow suit in their day-to-day social interactions.

Finally, I imagine that places like RI are the cyber descendants of the post-Enlightment coffeehouses where gentlemen ( mostly) inspired by the new learning spoke and debated while drinking coffee ( and other beverages).

Currently, higher education can be expensive and time-consuming for adults who are increasingly strapped for time and money but might like to understand scientific advances and issues that affect their lives and their children’s- at their own rate, in their own homes, free of charge.
Of course, like minds can also meet up.

And yes, I enjoy writing and playing around with styles and images.. on a cold, dreary February day in 2008, I decided to follow the call of the Muse ( or whoever that morose guy who constantly hangs around here is) and talk dirt about woo.

Orac love-fest sounds like a great idea! I’m another one of the silent majority at RI, who needs something to counter the mainstream media that bombards us daily with almost-believable woo without countering all that crap with science-based experts. I don’t feel smart enough or educated enough to keep up with the great banter that usually shows up here in the comment section; but in case you’re wondering, doc, we’re out here and we are listening.

I would encourage folks to also head over to The Poxes Blog and show Reuben some support, as well. Some really nice posts over there.

Okay, my attraction to this blog was ~ November 2009, when I saw the Desiree Jennings (I now have dystonia from a flu shot), story on local TV. I lurked here for a number of months before venturing forth with a comment, whereupon the Ugh Troll unleashed full bore personal attacks at me.

Confused and disheartened about this, I almost stopped posting, until some of the RI ladies reached out to me.

Around the same time I saw Brian Deer on television, visited his website and sent him a long email, which he responded to, almost immediately.

I found some other great science blogs, when those bloggers posted here and have posted on those blogs as well. In short, that is my history on science blogs.

We do try to educate people about science…each of us has special interests/knowledge…in turn I have learned so much about science…including CAM, which fascinates me.

The greatest benefit I have enjoyed by reading RI, is the discovery of the diversity of rational, critical, and skeptical blogs, podcasts, and conferences which exist. As my awareness of these resources grows, so does my comfort and conviction with my stance on science v. woo.

I have two wonderful, bright, intelligent (no personal bias!) teenaged children who are constantly exposed to “second-hand skepticism” around me. They are both considering studying medicine and need to know how to evaluate the quality of information presented to them.

I am grateful for the many dedicated skeptical bloggers AND the well-considered commenters. It takes a virtual community to raise a scientifically literate child!

I think that we sceptics provide a counter to the burgeoning alternative media that causes me to stop in my tracks and shake my head in dis-belief more frequently than I like. I am amazed by the growth o alt medf internet TV/ radio, video sites and so-called documentaries popping up like naturally poisonous mushrooms that paralyse higher mental processing in the susceptible. There’s an antidote, however.

Many topics are not covered in depth in the media and when they are ( e.g. Roger Cohen, NYT, on the Stanford review of organic vs conventional foods) people like Mike Adams step right up to the challenge ( yesterday, today @ Natural News), heaping scornful derision and imploring his followers to demand firing of the writer by the paper.

Progress and enlightenment will always be opposed by those who are comfortable with myths and tall tales instead of science as well as those with axes to grind and useless products to sell.

I love learning new things, but I rarely comment on blogs unless I think I have something substantial to contribute (only rarely ask a question — some blogs seem more suited to that than others). That means that when I’m learning the most, I’m usually not commenting. I have never been antivaccine or antiscience, but I’ve certainly been hugely educated by RI.

It is precisely people who know they don’t know who will remain silent. They don’t have either knowledge to share or the impervious arrogance of ignorance. So the people who are open to learning are the silent ones.

“You are overlooking the huge service you are providing to us “who agree with science”, but who don’t necessarily have the chops to bring down the woo as thoroughly”

What Mike said.

Blogs such as this one (or Anaximperator for that matter) will not eradicate quackery. But I still find it worthwhile. I am learning as I blog, and I am learning when I read other blog posts.

But equally important, these blogs provide information that counter a lot of the misinformation that is presented by quacks all over the internet.

For example before we started blogging about the Burzynski movie, the testimonials presented were understandably seen as strong convincers. I sincerely do believe that these blog posts did matter.

It is very probable that the vaccine scare would be far worse if they hadn’t been countered by bloggers. And we could go on.

So let’s keep on blogging – It does matter 🙂

I found your blog and have been reading for about a year. the other day, I was reading an article about autism and metabolic disorder (rare genetic mutation, etc) and that changing the diet corrected the problem in mice. My first reaction was Wow!, my second was, mice don’t make good biological models for human cognition.

I find myself reading all health news with a much more skeptical eye (and a bookmark on Pubmed) since I found you.

I first found the wonders of Orac while searching for info on Starchild Abraham Cherrix, back in ’06. He reminded me of my Unca Cecil, the worlds smartest human, at the Straight Dope

Being able to learn from the words smartest human and from the greatest computer in the universe is truly a great blessing.

I’m not a doctor, and not a scientist. But unlike some of the others who share my lack of qualifications in those areas, I can build on what I do know, and see how other facts fit together. What I do know about the human body and how it works (and doesn’t work) was, and still is, limited, Orac and the regular posters have greatly expanded on that knowledge in the past 6 years.

For example, homeopathy – I thought it was just using small doses of herbal medicines. Reading RI taught me just how wrong I was. Sure, I could have learned that at, say, wikipedia, but learning it here was fun.

I’m looking forward to more educational goodness, both here and, now, at The Poxes.

This blog is like a sitting of a science lecture. I have learned so much about woo because of this blog. Both Orac and his trusty hoarde of truth seekers provide endless study material and up to date information. I love Orac’s thoroughness. I hope it continues for a long time. I am way better off for knowing about and reading RI … way better off.

(Excuse replying to several people at once; saves waiting the minute or two to comment again!)

L20 – One thing that concerns me is that it seems to often take serious illness or death to move opinions. (It’s doubly a pity as they’re anecdotal, really.) One very recent example in New Zealand is a girl who died only two hours after being suspected that she might have meningitis; according to media it’s sparked off vaccinations in the area.

T – I suppose you have to deal with the copyright thing, but you should also be able to create links to google translations of web pages. They’ll be patchy (and a bit hilarious!), but the gist should be there.

Todd W.: “I would encourage folks to also head over to The Poxes Blog and show Reuben some support, as well. Some really nice posts over there.” – my thoughts too.

Orac, thanks for what you do. Your accessible, yet factual descriptions of cancer mechanics and treatments helped me make more informed choices when my poor dear late cat Nero developed a lymphoma tumour (and a shout-out to all the good folks at the University of Guelph Small Animal Clinic for their love, support, and excellent work) — it later metastasised, probably from a microtumour that grew after the primary locus was removed, and he died some time later, but hey, I wouldn’t know why that happened if it weren’t for you.

I also have used my RI-gained knowledge of breast cancer to get myself through, and give useful information to my family when my mom was diagnosed with DCIS back in October. Knowledge has made it a lot less stressful, at least for me. So thanks.

While slumming again at AoA, we find our old friend protesting with the cranks against the Governor, to influence him against signing California AB 2109.

Their Twitter feed is hilarious on this issue. They have so far disgorged the following points of analysis:

AB2109 in CA requires Dr.s note for non medical vaccine exemption. What if I need a priests’ sig to not attend Church or face penalty?

Like new voter’s ID issues to put up hurdles – AB2109 CA puts up hurdles for those seeking legit vax exemptions. Taking away rights.

Oh, and some other one about needing a Rabbi’s signature to not circumcise. In general. I’d repost it, but they’ve already protected their Tweets.

@ Grant: I second your suggestion to go and post at the “The Poxes” blog.

Meanwhile, Reuben and I have been amusing ourselves with the back to back banter on the blog I linked to above.

@ Interrobang: I haven’t had a pet for years (and years), but I sympathize with you for the loss of your beloved kitty.

And of course Interrobang, we all sending our best wishes to you and your mom. 🙂

I know how you feel, but I think it can certainly be said that blogging has not been competely ineffective in the UK. Half the university courses in quackery have shut down since bloggers started to expose the nonsense that they taught. See, for example,

Of course the experiment is not very well controlled, The closures could have been partly a result of hard economic times, or s change in the zeitgeist, But bloggers can take some credit for the change in the zeitgeist, and if fewer students want to do the courses, bloggers can take some of the credit for that too.

The bloggers message has influenced the mainstream media. Favourable reports of quackery in newspapers are now much less common than they were, even in papers that were previously totally uncritical.

Of course progress is a matter of two steps forward and one step back, The government has, unbelievably, appointed as Minister of Health who is so scientifically illiterate that he is on record as supporting homeopathy. Nonetheless homeopathy is clearly in retreat. It’s a slow job, but it’s fun, and we are winning.

I disagree Orac. Every once in a while, you and others (even me) do a good job and convince someone. You’re right, most of your readers either are true believers or true haters, but maybe once or twice a month, maybe even more frequently, someone says, “yeah, he’s right.”

Violating every one of your principles, I have an anecdotal story. About 2 or 3 years, I had a friend who had a diagnosis of breast cancer, who was convinced that some lame alt-med treatment was the way she wanted to go. She refused to listen to science based evidence, but the university of google was her choice, where all evidence was equal in quality. However, one of your alt-med stories resonated with her. And she let me provide some information from NCI and PubMed that showed the best treatment.

She’s alive now. She’s leading a vigorous life. I don’t know if you’re responsible. Maybe I got lucky. Maybe I should have become an attorney. Maybe I just wore her down. Maybe it was E) All of the above.

I think when people are googling for information, the more hits that come from people that are on the science side, the more chances that maybe a openminded party will make a good choice.

Keep up the good fight. It’s all you can do.

I first was directed to your blog by HCN of the JREF forums about 6 years ago (she now posts as Chris). I spent around 6 hours doing nothing but soaking up the insolence from your brilliant blogposts, and went to bed at 3am.

I haven’t quite repeated that stunt but have become a regular reader. I like to connect with like-minded peeps in what seems an enlarging world of irrationality and remind myself there are sane guys around.

I also heavily borrow your material and refer to your alter ego in my encounters with the dark forces of antiscience as I battle ignorance throughout the wooniverse.

Aluta continua!

Orac et alia,

It is a rare thing when I have a worthwhile comment for this blog and admittedly from time to time (such as now) I have neglected it for some weeks and have a lot of catching up to do.

To address the main point, it is probably impossible to fathom the impact you have, have had and will continue to have by delivering your insolence, respectful or otherwise. This is true of most authorship. Very much more is written that ever achieves wide acclaim. Effect is a very different metric. Effect is also cumulative. I suspect without evidence that those who never comment and only lurk quickly find themselves saying or writing, in other contexts, go and look it up at RI on scienceblogs…

If I thought about it I am sure I could conjure up several more plausible immeasurable ways in which your work here anastomoses across boundaries we cannot fathom. So take heart, continuing should not require any (f)aith. Fortitude, no doubt.

It is also quite true that your regular commenters are both a strong asset and a powerful manifestation of the much more extensive and pervasive mute community that through this informal forum of continuing education grows, learns, disseminates and reinforces the principles, the purpose and the ideals with every passing day.

I’d go on but I don’t think I need to.

It does merit pointing out, however, that there is another side to coin. Those who come here to disparage and ridicule and defame have an agenda or pehaps multiple agendas. The general class includes those for whom all forms of wishful thinking and superstition are critical to their world view. A (perhaps nor completely overlapping) subset would be those who have an investment in one of the fantasys you consistently address. Yet a third subset (once again of indeterminate coincidence with the prior two) consists of those with a vested interested in promoting and yes, profitting from the falsehoods of fanciful cancer cures, ‘natural immunity’, homeopathy, and on and on. They see you as an enemy. Pragmatically, you are whether or not your intent in any sense is to do them harm, your work here harms them. It lessens their amoral willingness to exploit fear and ignorance in others for their own personal gain. So at times, things will get ugly.

Since your OP was restrospective to an extent, you mentioned the fabled usenet, I’ll allow myself two digressions and try to keep the brief. I too have a long history with usenet albeit in newsgroups you likely did not frequent, namely and sci.geo.geology. Last I checked the former was still the usual furball whilst the latter has become essentially moribund. In the case of the latter, 18 or so years ago many actual geologists took part. But all that changed when the cranks began smothering discussion with fetid dingo kidneys. The reeason I bring this up is simple, the abdication by the real scientists at S.G.G. was really a manifestation of a not complete but disturbingly widespread trend among colleagues adopt the false equivalency that “everyone else is doing it”. The IT being pandering to nonsense and flasehoods. What many of them did not realize is that silence is a form of complicity.

The second and last of my digressions is a petty little bit of pedantry but I do think functionally important. The science blogs format has changed. Two very minor but useful things seem to have gone away. One is a count of the total comments on a post and the numbering of comments for ease of reference. The other is dates do not appear to accompany times of comments. This may all be due to my primitive OS and browser. But I found those features very helpful.

I second Michael’s final sentences above.

David Colquhoun,

I think influencing journalists is one thing we can do fairly well.

Speaking from experience of our blogs (at – they’re hosted by the NZ Science Media Centre and we’ve had some exposure to media. I can also see indirect effects we have contributed to. (Just as one example, I and few others have tried to encourage editors to not ‘promote’ charity drive for some terribly ill kid if the ‘treatment’ the parents sought was clearly unsound. [This partly via us sending letters to the editors, so there’s also something outside of the blogs going on, too.] Thus far I haven’t seen them repeat it this year, so maybe the current lot of editors are learning – ? I guess can hope…)

About the situation in the UK: There seems to be a lot of fuss about Jonathon Hunt having been appointed some health-related post overlooking the NHS and that he has previously supported homeopathic hospitals – would love your thoughts on that. (Perhaps he’s just an ambitious “yes” type who just says what he thinks is popular?)

Effect is also cumulative. I suspect without evidence that those who never comment and only lurk quickly find themselves saying or writing, in other contexts, go and look it up at RI on scienceblogs…

Ah, you remind me of the good ol’ Reveres. I’ll take it one further: the effect isn’t just in cyberspace, it propagates locally. My circle of friends is rather diverse, but the fact that they’re there in the first place means that they’re willing to tolerate occasional bouts of monomania on my part, and over time, they seem to be getting harder-nosed about these matters.

I was linked here a few years ago, when someone was helping me to argue against a mother treating her child’s serious illness with woo. As a victim of religious medical abuse, I’ll do what I can to speak for the children. That’s especially true when dealing with American families, who may be using woo due to inability to afford health insurance. I try to convince them that early medical intervention is going to be cheaper than “wooful waiting”.

I can’t go to uni anymore, or work in the health service, due to health problems. In both places I recommended this site. In my online volunteer health advisory role the same is true, especially as we largely deal with sexual health. I’ve used RI and SBM to back up discussions about viruses, vaccines, and the benefits of less frequent testing in the US.

Finally, I love the community here. I feel like I’m among equals, not having to always defend/explain my anti-woo mission, and not needing to dumb everything down to a reading age of six. It fills in that dreadful gap caused by being housebound.

So keep up the good work. I’ve even converted my mother to about 75% science and 25% woo, an amazing (if slow and painful) improvement.


What your blog has done for me, is give me plenty of high-grade ammo for fighting anti-vax memes in other forums. I’m a prolific commenter on Daily Kos, which is a huge progressive Democratic site, and about 300 people follow my comments. There’s a good number of doctors and working scientists on DKos, and a larger number of rationalists in general.

We’ve become more and more vociferous about vaccination and anti-vax nuts. Some time last year we hit critical mass with our comments, to the point where the site owner (Markos Moulitsas) added “anti-vaccination conspiracy theory” to the list of other types of CT (such as 9/11 “trutherism”) that are cause for instantly banning someone from the site. Victory!!

Your blog was a source of some of the information that helped get anti-vaxism on the insta-ban list on DK. It’s also strengthened our little nexus of people who will readily shoot down any comment promoting homeopathy or a half-dozen other forms of quackery. And it’s also been a first-line source of alerts about obscure topics that we are now more aware of so we can shoot them down if and when they pop up.

For that matter, homeopathy was hardly on my radar except as “a traditional healing practice that’s of questionable value” until I started reading your stuff. And while I avoided wacko healing practices myself, I wasn’t as well equipped to shred the arguements for them from various new-agey folks I know, until I’d been reading this blog for a good while.

Now I just need to go look up the best arguements to persuade a good friend (who has top-flight science education, wonders never cease!) that aluminum in the whooping cough vax isn’t going to crap up his brain.

Not that The Universe’s Most Powerful Computer could ever have a crisis of faith, but…

I can only echo the previous comments that you’ve helped me sharpen my discussion skills (not debating — as we know, some topics aren’t amenable to a true debate format) for dealing with woo, even when it crops up in my own house.

Since my speciality hardly ever crops up here, I limit myself to the occasional Monty Python reference or a bit of snark for the trolls. I leave the smackdown of anti-vax kaka to the estimable regulars here, but I do attempt to debunk crap on FB and elsewhere.

Thanks Orac, keep it up. 🙂

I’m not very active here but I’m active on several forums in my home country. And whenever I see sCAM or anti-vac topics, I use arguments that I have learnt here or on SBM or simply link to the relevant post. For example, I used your post about the diversity of cancer to point out why capsaicin cannot be the miracle cure for all cancers and also linked to Cherry’s article on pertussis outbreak in another discussion.

And now it’s time I finally sat down to prepare that sCAM speech that I’ve emailed you about. Thanks again for your kind permission to use your material.

I haven’t read past the first few sentences, but I want to comment that, as someone who has been reading since 2006 when I was in high school, I think your blog has made a difference. A lot of what I know about medicine and things to look for in evaluating scientific studies I learned from this blog. As an autistic self-advocate, I was mainly interested in countering antivaxxers since a lot of people who support a vaccine-autism connection support the various evidence-free, potentially harmful “biomed treatments” like chelation, Lupron, hyperbaric oxygen, restrictive diets, fecal transplants, and MMS enemas (to name a few). I’m pretty high functioning (with no speech delays, but speech difficulties and oddities), and considering that when I was four, getting my hair brushed felt like someone ripping my hair out of my skull, the physical discomfort alone makes me cringe to think how I would’ve felt had my parents made me go through these things. I am glad my dad is on the spectrum, and that my mom was not social enough or wealthy enough (we didn’t get Internet access until I was 13, and then it was dial-up) to get involved in support groups and foot the bill for quackery.

This blog has opened my eyes to the wider world of medical quackery, and further, to the wider world of quackery and scams of all types. Just two days ago, someone approached me after class offering me a job as a salesperson, and very quickly I could tell this was almost certainly a MLM type scam. It helps that I am hyperskeptical of sales pitches anyway, but it would’ve taken me longer to tell if I hadn’t read about their structure and tactics online on skeptic sites. As someone who is poor and looking for a better job, spending the time and money and energy to go back to college, such an offer might have looked very tempting (good thing I love academics).

Also, I just plain have a much easier time of countering myths about autism and the supposed causes and cures. This is especially important to be well-versed in these, since I often have great difficulty speaking spontaneously from my thoughts. I need significant time to put my thoughts to words for things that I do not say commonly (like “hi” or “have a good day”), that I have not memorized as scripts. So for anything I plan to advocate for, even in everyday life when the subject comes up, I have to rehearse over and over in my head what I would say if X came up. After that, I come up with different versions based on whether someone is a die-hard proponent of X or whether they’re a concerned citizen who heard myth X from the radio. Then I have to commit those to memory, which I generally go through this process while reading about the topic, such as when I’m reading a blog post at Respectful Insolence.

Thank you, ORAC!

I finished reading, and remembered a couple things I want to add. For one, when I was taking an English class at college recently, the professor was antivaccine and hadn’t vaccinated her children except for polio, since her husband apparently was not antivaccine, and handed us this article about cell phones which I criticized in class for starting from an assumption and then giving a laundry list of things to do, which is neither good science reporting nor good writing, which she defended by repeating the word limit (as if I, a writer, didn’t understand this!)
When she said about vaccines that “the con side has valid arguments too”, I replied that “while any opinion may be considered valid if sincerely held, merely being the other side of a coin doesn’t give it 50% weight as to its veracity.”

While I am certain I didn’t change my professor’s mind, I think I got through to some of the other people in the class (it helped that Wakefield had recently been exposed as fraudulent). I would not have been anywhere near so capable at arguing in real-time had I not had the experience and practice of reading and interacting with expert bloggers such as yourself (okay, you’re not a vaccine expert, but you’re a research medical doctor who’s heavily researched vaccines and know a lot more about evaluating medical studies and scientific evidence than a physics major undergrad).

I also learned from this site what homeopathy was, so when I found out the eye drops my parents had been giving our dog were homeopathic, I knew they weren’t going to help any more than plain water (she did get better, but I’m pretty sure the original problem was some plant matter scratching her eye – having recently had the same happen to me, it does heal on its own, but it helps if your eye is closed). Also, my first attempt at college I had a lot of back pain making school difficult and felt guilty that my needle phobia prevented me from trying acupuncture even though there was a free acupuncture clinic for students. Shortly after, I read your post about the toothpick study on this blog, and realized there was nothing to feel guilty about.


I, for one, wouldn’t exist without you.

Lord Draconis Zeneca VH7ihL
Foreward Mavoon of the Great Fleet, Subjugator General of Terra, Commander, First Fictional Figment Regiment

Glaxxon PharmaCOM Terrabase DIA


Well, you’re just not gonna get too many comments from people who are undecided about this stuff. Maybe you hear from them down the road when they are more confident about their knowledge.

For me, the main thing I’ve learned is how many people actually take things like homeopathy and ant-vax fears seriously. It just was never an issue back when I was growing up.

I owe this blog a great debt for blowing away a number of cobwebby bits of BS lurking in my brain that I hadn’t previously examined properly. It has definitely made a difference to me, and I have definitely made a difference to a number of people because of it. Please, keep the insolence coming.

Well, I am a pro-science type, and I am right now trying to sway some minds among my friends, specifically over vaccines. I don’t point them at your blog because on the one hand, no, I don’t think your writings are diplomatic enough to do the job, and I’m not going to be the concern troll who tells you what you should be writing. But when I try to put arguments together to (inshallah) sway some minds, your material is what I start with, and it’s particularly useful to read if when I want to know what bizarre new theory I’ll hear next from them.

You’re not going to change many minds RIGHT HERE on this blog. But your material is important for that fight.

Though I’ve always been a bit skeptical of alternative claims (especially the ones that make absolutely no sense), I have to admit finding you when googling information to attempt to talk sense into Mr Woo. It hasn’t worked with him yet, he’s been too immersed in the alternative mindset (the one that includes the government, medical establishment, etc., are all bought and paid for by a conspiracy mindset). However, if I found it trying to figure out more information about some of woo’s claims, then others are. Granted, most of the people you convert probably don’t join in the conversation later, but it doesn’t mean you haven’t made a difference.

I have always been a sceptic of woo and your blog (and your partners on your other blog) have provided me with a hell of a lot of data and arguments to fight the woo in India- and there is a hell of a lot of that !

Thanks for fighting the good fight

Well, I know that this is going to be a little tangential in this context, but I have actually used this blog as a scientific source on occasion. For example, Orac wrote a fairly detailed set of pieces about clonal evolution of breast cancer cells — if I remember correctly, it was the subject of discussion at the Chicago AACR meeting. It was so new that it wasn’t even in print, but the Nature epub system had it. I presented it to our breast cancer research group journal club.

(note to those of you who are not working scientists: The term “journal club” just refers to scientists gathering from time to time — weekly in our case — and listening to one of us present an article from a peer reviewed journal. Then we discuss it as a group, trying to look for strongly made points and yes, weaknesses. We have done a lot of papers on the idea of cancer stem cells, epithelial mesenchymal transition, Her2/neu resistance, etc.)

So thanks to Orac, although I have to say that the Nature paper was devilishly hard to read and to interpret to a group who were not all adept in higher math and statistics. And it had a 160 page supplementary section. Maybe I should have done the companion piece instead. What I can tell you is that a room full of professional researchers and students got a feel for where research is heading, in terms of the new generation sequencing systems and high power mathematical modeling.

In addition, I was having a chat with a fellow aficionado of silent film at a festival in Hollywood last weekend, and it turns out he has a relative with some concerns about a breast issue. I repeated Orac’s discussion (as best I could) to him about the dramatic advantages of early treatment as opposed to putting things off. This also got me to wondering about whether or not we should maybe present early screening and immediate treatment in a very optimistic way.

I already knew something about quackery and about Burzynski from reading Quackwatch, but RI has done a magnificent job of exposing a human disaster in progress.

Overall, I think it is useful for us to keep telling ourselves two things: First we have to maintain the commitment to the continuing advancement of science, science based medicine, and telling people the truth. Second, we have to realize that it is a part of good citizenship to give public reply to the professional liars and the dangerously self-deceptive.

I haven’t commented here before, but I’ve lurked for several years. I came here because I was looking for ammunition against antivaxers, so I was already persuaded on that point. On the other hand, I had the fairly common misconceptions about the “power of placebo” that you and you co-bloggers at you other blog have frequently addressed.

Realizing that I was wrong about placebos (and reading Eherenreich’s “Bright Sided”) has changed my thinking tremendously. It’s made me see how much of a baleful influence “Law of Attraction” and Just World thinking is. I’m even going to give a shot a blogging on related issues. I doubt I’ll have the endurance of a box of blinking lights, but I do like writing.

This does sound like an Orac love fest. Oh well, nothing wrong with that in moderation. There’s a lot I could say in response to this blog post. I’ve been so deep in medical mayhem and woo, that a book about me could rightfully be titled ‘What Not To Do’.

I enjoy the RI blend of sarcasm and humor with solid information. I certainly can’t fault Orac for not always being diplomatic. Sometimes it does take someone getting in your face and screaming ‘What the HELL are you doing?!!”, or “What the HELL are you thinking?!!” in order to get one’s attention. Orac and his followers offer that attention-getting slap on the face, but armed with enough scientific details and explanations so lay people can understand.

“It is part of good citizenship to give public reply to the professional liars and the dangerously self-deceptive”.

That statement sums it up nicely. While deep in woo and mayhem, there were a few select people who stood and watched my decline without making any attempt to intervene, not one peep. They just stood around and watched the ‘show’, it would seem. Years later, I asked them ‘Why?’. Why and how could someone sit idly by and watch such horrible things happening to someone else. Their response was, ‘Would it have made a difference?’.

Thanks Orac and the others here for trying to make a difference. Although there have been many such people, over the past couple of years, a few people here have stood out as saying things that have had particular beneficial impact in one way or another . I would like to express gratitude to them as well. Thank you Lilady, Narad, and a very special thanks to Prometheus, as it was his blog and writings that I first found. I wish he would write more.

Personally, I hate this blog and everything it stands for. I especially can’t stand Blake’s Seven, or that blasted box of blinking lights that labels itself ORAC. I hate hate hate hate it all, and you all. Which is why I keep coming back here, because you and your damn science ruin my Woo-Woo Scams and .. . Oh wait.. . isn’t this Opposites Day ?
But seriously; love the work Orac. and the blog (and yes, I even like Blake’s 7 ) Keep up the good work !

Sialis: You should not have singled me and Narad out for special mentions. I know you meant that because we have the Bat Sh*t Signals in our possession, we could call upon the Th1Th2 bot to engage Thingy.

Once Thingy was engaged, the real pros could then have grown-up conversations.

I come to this blog for the essay and now – very much so – for the comments of current erudite regulars & drop-ins. For example, there’s also currently a great thread running on the “Quackademic medicine versus cancer quackery” post. I “learn” strange things from the trolls & woo/quack crowd, too.

There is certainly some value in preaching to the choir. I might be a skeptic and a rational person, but I know very little about medicine. This blog is one of the sources I actually trust.

I managed to talk your blog into being considered a reliable source on Wikipedia on Robert O. Young’s page. I often learn what I take from here and work on relevant pages on the wiki. Hope that helps.

This phenomenon crosses all big arguments. My induction was on the evolution side of the creationism debate that flared up a few years ago. You hope somebody somewhere is watching and learning. It seems fruitless at times, but if we don’t try at all, we will fail surely. And remember the mantra: It’s for the lurkers!

By the way, Young libeled you when he threatened to sue Wikipedia if we didn’t remove the criticism:
“This is Robert O. Young and I am demanding that you take down the attacks on me personally concerning Kim Tinkham and Quakewatchers. You are posting felacious information that cannot be substantiated. I have never met [Orac], He knows nothing about the Kim Tinkham case other then what he makes up. I am recommending you take down my entire listing NOW before litigation The blogs any references you have sited are full of editorializing and personal opinion and NOT based upon fact. They are not formal articles that you would expect from legitimate source. I will give you 36 hours to take all personal attacks, felacious statements from blogs and editorials before I begin to legal recouse. “

While it is true that I am a skeptic and didn’t need sorting out on that front, I have learned a whole lot of new stuff about how to refute a lot of the woo arguments, and about cancer as well. Not only am I able to get people to question their woo, but I’ve quit being a shruggie and rid myself of several “friends” who were only driving me batty with their devotion to all things woo.

I love your blog – and I ‘sit on the fence’ a bit on some things. I’m actually what you’d call a ‘scam’ practitioner probably, even though my approach is very ‘atypical’ – but I am an ‘outcast’ in my group because I want to see us push for real evidence for what we do and what we’re taught, and I faithfully pick apart the crap that is generated as ‘evidence’ as best I can. (The same goes for some rubbish ‘research’ supporting physiotherapy approaches – sometimes they are no better!) I refuse to tout ‘supplements’ and other unproven crap even though it makes me far less successful than my contemporaries. Since becoming more interested in the real issues and learning how to be more critical, I actually went from anti-vax to vaxxing my child, which really threw my contemporaries into a tizzie! Anyway, just to say that your stuff is valuable to people in all camps and I hope you keep blogging forever !

@ LHT:

What type of practitioner are you?
Seriously, I am not out to attack you: if you are seeking evidence and ‘pick apart’ crap evidence- well, good for you!

I am assuming that you are either a massage therapist or chiro ( since you mention physiotherapy)- both of which HAVE applications in reality that are often vastly inflated by the woo factions.

And your changed position on vaccines is a spectatcular achievement which should be congratulated!

Just want to add my voice. When the woo about breast cancer gets too deep at another site I visit, I can come here for a dose of sanity.I have learned and have passed on what I learned.

Well, I was told my Wikipedia work was a joke, as you are already a big name source on Wiki. I didn’t know that. Never mind.

Long-time lurker, first-time caller. I’ve always been vaguely pro-vaccine and pro-science generally, but I found this site quite useful in starching my spine when discussing vaccinating our baby with my wife (not an easy task as our older boy has autism). So keep up the good work!

I discovered your blog while trying to make sense of all the anti-vax BS shortly after my son was diagnosed with autism in 2003. It was a great help to me and I, for one, appreciate it.

I discovered your blog while trying to make sense of all the anti-vax BS shortly after my son was diagnosed with autism in 2003. It was a great help to me and I, for one, appreciate it.

I had doubts about the efficacy of the vaccines and you helped to make my mind. I used to confuse the homeopathy with the natural therapies and thought that none of them could do any harm. I thougt that accupuncture could work, and that the positive thinking was very important in the process of healing.
You helped me to learn to be more skeptic .

@Denice Hi. I’m an osteopath. (And I don’t crack necks or do ‘cranial’ – to the horror of some colleagues!)

Sadly most of my colleagues saw a class on research methods (delivered by an academic researcher) in a very defensive way – that the lecturer was ‘attacking’ the profession etc – but the point was to help people develop the ability to be professionally self critical.

I get really annoyed at how small bits of truth about a mechanism of action – or theories about plausible mechanisms of action – get spoken about and inflated as if they are the TRUTH and then are a justification and used as defence against further questions…when, although sometimes interesting in and of themselves, they are not nearly worth or equal to any of that. Anyway, even though it’s hard to get access to full papers as a self employed clinician, I get what I can and read what I can and do more academically delivered CPD (often not ‘geared’ toward osteopaths, sadly, I’d like to change that) and I talk a lot with people who are very proud ‘sceptics’ and read those kinds of blogs. I find it enjoyable and rewarding and I like to think that my questioning leanings are of benefit to my patients as well, both directly and indirectly. (I must say I rarely participate but on this thread I thought I might!)

I read this and other skeptical blogs, and send articles to friends and family all the time. I do read the comments but don’t often comment because, a. I have nothing intelligent to add, or b. someone more intelligent has already stated what I wanted to say more eloquently.

You and other skeptical bloggers are doing a great service, keep up the good fight!

I would like to add that the internet has one unique property – it’s like accelerated Real Life. Due to the internet in general and several blogs in particular, I’ve experienced far more people and discussions than I could ever do IRL.

What this allows me to do is to “profile” people. Well, not profile individuals, but to get an idea of how they think. Some people I think are perfectly nice people in all other respects are CTers. “Did you hear about the Clintons and ____?”. So I know not to respond “No, tell me more.” unless I’m desperate for entertainment.

I can choose to ignore certain types of trolls, unless I’m interested in tearing down their carefully constructed mythologies – again, if I’m bored and need entertainment or to educate lurkers.

In a recently acquired interest, I am in several groups and I can tailor my responses from “That’s ridiculous!” to “This is what we know about ____.”. When a group doesn’t trust science or The Medical Establishment, the best approach can be stating provable facts and seeing if anyone wants to discuss further.

@ LHT:

Your contributions will certainly be appreciated @ RI because you are perhaps more entrenched in fighting woo on a daily basis than most of us: I’m an on-looker and surveyor who merely writes about it.

Today my wife emailed me a NY Times article on how acupuncture is proven to work against placebos in blinded trials. If I had never read RI, I would have shifted uncomfortably. Instead, I looked at the actual JAMA publication and whether acupuncture beat out fake acupuncture.
This blog isn’t just boo/yay stuff. It keeps us on our toes and makes us better understand how science and medicine work- and how they are misunderstood.

[One more thing: I hope you review the NY Times coverage of the new Vickers study. Vickers claims that acupuncture is only modestly outperforming sham acupuncture in some pain types and not in any statistically significant ways. Going to the source and looking for controls, statistical significance, and contrary findings in the trials is something I do with medical news now that I didn’t before.]

@ Nick: A poster *commented* on the Science Based Medicine and linked the NY Times and the JAMA articles. Here’s my reply:

“Neither of your links to articles, referred to the actual NCCAM statement and opinion of the study.

Did you happen to miss this from the NCCAM-sponsored study? How would this statement about the “larger component” affect the result of the meta-analysis?

“A recent NCCAM-funded study, employing individual patient data meta-analyses and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, provides the most rigorous evidence to date that acupuncture may be helpful for chronic pain. In addition, results from the study provide robust evidence that the effects of acupuncture on pain are attributable to two components. The larger component includes factors such as the patient’s belief that treatment will be effective, as well as placebo and other context effects. A smaller acupuncture-specific component involves such issues as the locations of specific needling points or depth of needling…..”

This is a bit off topic. There is a new energy healer in Cambodia. A 3 year-old dubbed ‘The Holy Boy’.

Just noticed this from Venia, quoting a gem from Robert O. Young, on the 9th @ 11:05 pm :

You are posting felacious information that cannot be substantiated.

I must have missed the felacious information about Young, which sounds intriguing, unless of course he meant ‘fallacious’.

@ Krebiozen: I missed UV’s “felacious” comment. Maybe UV posted more comments about Young’s sex life and they ended up in the moderation hopper? Is there anyway to retrofit that old blinky box computer, to allow us to read those titillating comments?

BTW, Happy Rosh Hashanah to all our Jewish friends.

Long may you blog oh blinking box! I am a long term, but silent, reader and appreciate the wonderful ammunition you supply for when I discuss all forms of woo (but immunisation in particular) with a number of relatives who are sadly susceptible to the call of “alternative” medicine.

I have shared your blogs and links and used your writing to help improve my children’s critical thinking skills. I should have said it before, but, thank you for the clarity you supply on these issues. please keep it up as you supply the bullets for many of us to fire; many of us who lack the ability to manufacture said bullets left to our own devices.

Orac, I think what you do for the most part is a great service to humanity. Something I’ve noticed, however, is that you tend to make others wrong in a seemingly condescending way. This adds to the humor of your posts, but it may also be increasing the hostility of those who you make wrong.

Perhaps focusing on what’s going well in the vaccine community, such as honoring figures who apply the scientific method with high fidelity, would also be beneficial.

Hi Orac,
I’m one of your regular readers, although this is my first time commenting. I first came across your blog last year, while looking for information on homeopathy. My mother was a fervent user of homeopathy since before I was born, so I grew up thinking it was “herbolary” medicine, that it worked, and I even used to say that it “boosts your immune system” (I now feel ashamed every time I remember that :D). I started to question homeopathy after getting a bad case of gastritis which just wouldn’t heal. I read a book called “bad science” by Ben Goldacre, which has a chapter on homeopathy. When I realized it was only water, I started looking for more information on the internet, and I came across one of your posts. I think I really laughed out loud while reading it, your description of it as “magical thinking” couldn’t be more accurate. I forwarded the link to my sister and later we had a talk with our mom about homeopathy. I am proud to say that none of us uses it anymore. I kept coming back because I do not specialize in medicine, and found your posts educating and funny. What better way to spend some free minutes than reading something that helps you identify the quacks and at the same time makes you laugh?
After being here for around one year I can say I am now able to identify quackery (which in Mexico abounds), and stay away from it.
So, I would like to say now, thank you for your posts! the blog is awesome. Keep it going!

The french philosopher and economist, Yann Moulier-Boutang, has an idea of the “pollination society”.

In short it’s about how the reward for the bee’s activities is in the honey, but the result of the bee’s activities for the world is the (much larger and more important effect of) pollination.

So the skeptic blogger will be rewarded with a little bit of honey; the occational positive feedback, the joy of learning and writing. But the ramifications for the world are much wider and harder to pinpoint – much in the same way as it’s hard to tell exactly how many trees or fruits one particular bee has contributed to (not to mention the animals and other plants that have been able to survive as a result).

How many readers have been swayed one step closer to rationality after reading a post? How many conversations have been influenced by someone saying “ know I just read something about that, and I’m not sure that study you mentioned really shows vaccines do not work.”? How many have shared the blog through social media? How many have been inspired (or provoked) to investigate the topic further? How many friends or family of policy-makers have stumbled across a post, or facebook-coment or tweet, and mentioned the problem about too much woo in the world during dinner, or while grabbing a coffee? How many people in situations of power have themselves come across these arguments? How many skeptics in the trenches have reached for an argument and come across the perfect post, thereby giving undecided spectators a chance to check the claims of a woo-proponent?

We have no idea.

But if there is enough well written and well communicated rationality being put forward by enough people, there is a chance that something will take hold somewhere. And sometimes that somewhere can be somewhere important.

But we do not know this when we sit by the keyboard, or talk to a friend, or talk at a conference, or hit “share” on facebook. All we know is that the future is shaped by billions of people making billions of decisions, some of those are more important than others, and if we don’t supply a steady stream of rationality to influence those decisions then we will have to take our chances with whatever else is circulating out there.

So yeah, please keep up the good work!

(But there’s nothing stopping us from doing science on this! Where are the behavioural scientists, the psychologists and the sociologists who can map how people are affected by skeptical blogposts?)

A bit late, but I want to add my support for you, so that you dash away those crazy doubts about whether your blog accomplishes anything. As many others have said, it sure does! Thank you!

I first came across your blog when I looked into something my friend was into – draining her lymph nodes by bouncing on a trampoline. I thought it sounded ridiculous so I researched it & came across one of your immensely entertaining & informative “Friday Doses of Woo: Bouncing away the toxins”. You proved my belief, that it was complete rubbish. I just needed the basic facts, to be able to put into words, the argument against what she was promoting. Of course, she continues to bounce away, in the belief she’s draining those lymph nodes because the proof for her, is that “she feels better” after she does it. No real harm in that version of quackery but I do appreciate knowing the facts behind it, and to stop worrying that my lymph nodes will grow into the size of grapefruit from not bouncing.

I kept reading (& continue to do so regularly) & found a lot of what my friend, & others, believe in is rubbish, including the expensive bottles of worthless homeopathic cold & flu remedies she got us to buy. Others have mentioned that they thought homeopathy was just some herbal thing, which is what my husband & I thought. It’s an understatement to say we were shocked at the sheer deception behind that quackery & how dismayed we are at how prevalent it is in society.

We share a holiday house with our quack friend. She kept insisting we needed some special water filter because our bodies are too acid apparently. Your blog saved us a few thousand dollars when we got the hard facts about this scam from one of your articles. Thank you!

Blogs like yours are valuable assets in today’s world of lazy, fluffy journalism. The media spends more time reporting on the antics of celebrities & politicians than rip-off scams that are draining public healthcare dollars, wasting people’s money, & even causing physical harm.

I spend less on supplements (taking only D because of a deficiency) & have stopped wasting time & emotion worrying about non-existent health issues – whether my lymph nodes need to be bounced empty or if my body’s acidic. I also appreciate having my eyes opened, with hard facts and real science, to chiropractic, acupuncture, eastern “medicine” & all the other time-wasting, money-wasting quackery out there.

Thank you!

Hey Orac,
I never comment but I read your blog religiously. I found it when a friend of mine suggested I “do my research” about the benefits of homeopathy, since I was naturally skeptical. Once I figured out what homeopathy really was I didn’t need anyone to tell me it was bunk, but I still very much enjoyed reading your take. I came back when someone told me that raw food would help with my lupus, and again when another friend (don’t judge, I have rational friends too) claimed that vaccines caused her son’s autism. I guess I was sort of a natural skeptic, but I would never have had all the scientific backing I needed to really justify my skepticism until I started reading your blogs. I just don’t feel well-educated enough to comment most of the time, and I’m sure others are like me. Keep up the good work!

For what it’s worth, I’d say that all this blogging does largely what vaccines do. It raises herd immunity to total bollocks so that – even if a small handful of people fall for said bollocks – the vast majority will not.

@KRH: “(But there’s nothing stopping us from doing science on this! Where are the behavioural scientists, the psychologists and the sociologists who can map how people are affected by skeptical blogposts?)”

Now THAT would be a very interesting use of applied social psychological research time!

It’s worth it. Cf comments above plus my 2 cents. You’ve given me access not only to vax info (esp Gardisil, the Mother-in-Law is addicted to the local tabloid) but also to insights into a host of medical/ social problems, some of which are part of my family’s daily life.
The comments YOUR BLOG generates are worth as much as the posts themselves (O.K. Thingy excepted). No blog = no comments. I second the pollination analogy.

Accomplishes zero. Just further supports that those who see truth, hold on to it tighter.

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