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Orac on Thinking Critically

So Orac appeared on the Thinking Critically podcast to discuss the sorts of things he often rambles on about right here on Respectful Insolence.

Today Orac is using his prerogative as founder, owner, and sole blogger for Respectful Insolence to engage in a little shameless self-promotion. Not long ago, he was interviewed by Jonathan Maloney for the Thinking Critically podcast. Basically, Orac and Jonathan discussed the sorts of topics Orac regularly discusses here all the time, including the antivaccine movement, COVID-19, and Orac’s journey to skepticism, lo, these more than two decades ago. Here’s the podcast link, and here’s the episode on YouTube:

Enjoy, I hope!

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]

23 replies on “Orac on Thinking Critically”

They’re the kind of folks who got hopelessly confused by the end of The Committee”s Bill Saluga’s “You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay…” skit.

The other audience you’re helping are the other advocates who may not have the capacity to address some of the issue you can – like your expertise in DNA and PCR. You give others tools to address pseudoscientific claims.

And your point about conspiracy theories, addressed in some of your previous blogs, seems simply right on.

@ Orac

I had no idea it was that difficult to detect scientific fraud.

Much appreciated podcast. Thanks.

@ John Kane

I’ll decline to comment: I know that university.

Very impressive bibliography, though…

I do think there is a mental revolution to be undertaken about the issue of fraudulent science, though. Whatever I may think of that specific researcher, the comment section of your link makes it abundantly clear that not much thought is given as to how to root out that problem. Science operates as a whole. Researchers only caring about their own professional silos do not seem to grasp the scope of the issue until too late in their career.

Maybe the ongoing fury about conspiracy theories and the blooming “debate” about the interplay of science and society will trigger an awakening.

Until then, I read stories about people gobbling vitamin D pills against coronavirus, and wondering why should we not replace masks by vitamin D supplements. There really is a shitload of work ahead of any skeptic. People just do not seem to grasp why truth matters, IMO. Which is even worse than believing in conspiracy theories, if you ask me…

There seems to be some pretty good evidence that people who are vitamin D deficient do have poorer outcome. But taking more than enough to prevent actual deficiency isn’t of any value and there is no evidence that vitamin D helps once people with COVID-19 get to the point of requiring hospitalization.
I’m going on what Dr. Daniel Griffin reports on his weekly Clinical Update on TWiV. He is very clearly a big believer in relying on good scientific evidence. He sure as heck wouldn’t recommend vitamin D as any sort of alternative to mitigation measures like masks, distancing and hand hygiene.

The vitamin D controversy is akin to other woo-fraught tropes;
whether we’re discussing the benefits of vitamin D, C, one of the B complex, particular minerals, certain phytonutrients in specific vegetables/ fruits/ herbs, there is a tendency by alt med believers to exaggerate and expand, real, testable claims to unrealistic proportions. So if we know from research that a vitamin is necessary for a particular function, woo-believers will expand that drastically: if vitamin C is needed to avoid scurvy, they’ll say it is also necessary to prevent/ cure other conditions; instead of say 60 mg a day, thousands of mgs ( grams!) may be given or infused- I’ve heard as much as 100K mg a day for cancer and hiv/ aids!

Similarly, if a variety of vegetables/ fruits ( a veritable rainbow) is shown by research to contribute to health, alt med will postulate a diet composed solely of these ingredients and advocate it as a cure for various illnesses/ conditions. They usually even have research to support their claims although it may involve misappropriating/ distorting SBM studies and putting up their own dodgy “studies” or testimonials of cures
One of the woo-meisters I survey describes cures for cancer, MS, CVD, COPD and myriad other illnesses by a vegan diet, juicing, exercise, meditation, intermittent fasting when guests stay at his retreats BUT if you look closely, you’ll find ( from testimonials) that much of the progress can be attributed to weight loss ( lower BP,, lower blood sugar) and daily exercise classes ( strength, endurance). There will be a write up in an alt med journal soon of his latest “study”/ scam to de-age people and repair their DNA: I think he’s going to claim lengthening of telomeres. .

@ Denice Walter

“The vitamin D controversy is akin to other woo-fraught tropes;
whether we’re discussing the benefits of vitamin D, C, one of the B complex, particular minerals, certain phytonutrients in specific vegetables/ fruits/ herbs, there is a tendency by alt med believers to exaggerate and expand, real, testable claims to unrealistic proportions.”


It was great watching Orac! I’m a bit concerned, he usually smiled when information retrieval was difficult.

@ Orac,

You suggested early onset Alzheimer’s, can you smell peanut butter? Can I co-interview you the next time? Please advise…

I like the idea of “pre-bunking”.
Better yet, what makes a person virtually immune to alt med/ pseudo-science/ BS?

I think that part is informational and part is personality-based.
At a certain point, students ( hopefully) are shown how to ascertain what sources are meaningful and which are suspicious. When reading print or internet copy, certain clues can lead us towards reliable outlets and warn us about shadiness. Stuff like this can be taught, I’d guess, at or just below secondary school level
Personality variables are slipperier and harder to define but researchers have shown what types of people are more likely to accept CTs. I’ve mentioned research before: valuing purity, ‘nature’ and freedom, non-acceptance of hierarchies of expertise, belief in one’s being “special” or ” ahead of the curve”, general suspiciousness.

There are also red flags that I have gleaned from my travels:
— secret knowledge, secret papers, death bed confessions, arcane research, ancient traditions
— plots by the powers-that-be; suspicion of all mainstream media/ institutions
— a business plan. The ‘educational’ website has a store or asks for support to ‘spread the truth’
— repeated insistence that the public’s ( the audience’s) well being is the prime motivation for dispersing information.
— curious credentials, .

One trait I see a lot in people who push CT is a disproportionate emphasis placed on emotional response. “If it makes me feel bad, it is bad.” And that’s as far as their analysis really goes. Everything that comes after evaluated by a framework built off that initial reaction.

And that emotional response allows them to disregard glaring inconsistencies presented in the alt med explanation or any suspicion they have about the perpetrator’s motives because they like them so much ! Or explain away inconvenient facts,

I remember a bit from Dune (the book) where one of the ‘mystic’ asides stated that if something was good for the bodily then it was interpreted as pleasurable. To which I mentally replied…. broccoli.

Good talk, Orac. I particularly enjoyed watching the evolution of on-screen Orac; Who apparently knows intimately the diffence between looking at the camera and the person on the screen. Is this yo first rodeo with these services from a home environment? It almost appears as if there is a little telescoping rod being adjusted thoughout. Still, your camera arcitechture makes you have Cristine Kincaid hands which weirdly turns me on. That chair is not exactly inexpensive. I took the wheels off mine and drilled a hole in the floor for it to fit my setup.

It became a pet peeve with me early on with my very few appearances on services such as camfrog, teamviewer, and skype. I wish more people appreciated how this looks. Visiting certain persons in prison was like “hey, bro, my eyes are up here!!” {We don’t have that face to face through plexiglass like onTV, I get locked into a room and then video chat}.

My fix was to stack several dip cans up until the camera was a little below the midpoint of the screen. It gives one sort of that Abe Lincoln in his memorial kinda “I know what I’m talking about” vibe when walking newbees thought how to ‘cut-n-paste’.

This has got to be one of the most hilariously hypocritical interviews I have ever experienced. Orac? Critical thinking? Oh my!!!! I just ruptured something from laughing so hard.

Orac has destroyed every irony meter in existence with this super-nova level hypocrisy

You watched it? Really? Quiz time!! Is Orac right-handed or left-handed? How about the interviewer?

Again? (heh!)

OTOH (double heh!) the crank might learn something from the podcast even while watching your hands.


Person unable to think critically also unable to recognise critical thinking!


Lately Gorski has been bashing on Dr Steven Phillips but it is not just Phillips , it is every single ILADS doc . That whole bunch are just liars who call themselves a nonprofit and craft a narrative that helps them financially.
They lie about the science on purpose, it’s not that they are dumb instead it is because they are profiteering assholes.

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