The Opportunity Cost of Pseudoscience

Last month, the U.S. government-funded National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine released a study which found that Americans spent $34 billion annually on alternative medicine. Although this is just 1.5% of total health care spending in the country, it represents over 11% of all out-of-pocket expenditures. The report estimates that about 38 million adults visited alternative practitioners in 2007.Unusually for a mainstream media outlet, the Boston Globe offers a much-welcomed … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions XII: Qi

Qi

A popular notion in traditional Asian cultures, as well as the garbled versions of Asian culture imported into the West by the New Age movement, is the idea of qi (or chi), the vital energy that permeates the universe and flows through living things. A wide variety of pseudoscientific beliefs are based on qi, and today's post will examine some of them, through the lens of an article in a local alternative newspaper I picked up touting qi's uses in interpersonal relations and healing.The … [Read more...]

Advice to Publicists: Know Your Audience

A publicist who obviously didn't read my site very carefully sent me this e-mail:Subject: wow...website is giving away free psychic readings with a famous psychicThought your audience would be interested in this. The savvy staff from the site, wowOwow.com, is offering a refer-a-friend sweepstakes that's unlike anything else ...wowOwow.com, whose contributors include Whoopi Goldberg, Marlo Thomas and "60 Minutes" Lesley Stahl, is offering four people the chance to win a free psychic … [Read more...]

Run Your Car on Water! (No, Not Really)

The other day, I came across a pseudoscience site so laughably ridiculous I just had to share it:http://www.runyourcaronwater.com/(Warning: Page has sound.)As the URL indicates, the unknown people behind this site are selling a kit which they claim will enable you to turn your car into a "water-burning hybrid" that can use ordinary tap water as a fuel source. I'll go over the mechanics of why this is impossible in a minute, but first, I want to call attention to this curious claim:You … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions X: Crystal Power

To mark the tenth installment of Popular Delusions, I'm turning my attention to one of the most common and enduring superstitions among the New Age set: the belief that naturally occurring crystals have some sort of special power to store, concentrate, or focus vaguely defined "energies".A web search readily brings up hundreds of sites discussing the magical potencies of various crystals, most of which have to do with their supposed healing powers. Here's an entirely typical … [Read more...]

The Harm Psychics Do

Out of Toronto, this jaw-dropping story: Colleen Leduc, a local mother, was accused by school officials of letting her autistic daughter Victoria be sexually abused - based on the word of a psychic! (HT: Boing Boing).Leduc's weird tale began on May 30, when she dropped young Victoria off for class at Terry Fox Elementary and headed in to work, only to receive a frantic phone call from the school telling her it was urgent she come back right away.The frightened mother rushed back to the … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions IX: Numerology

triskadekaphobia

As you can see from this picture, the building where I live has no thirteenth floor:But of course, what this picture depicts is a mathematical impossibility. My building does have a thirteenth floor; it's just that it's mislabeled as the fourteenth floor, with all the floors above it similarly mislabeled by one.This may be a small thing, but every time I step into the elevator, it's a jarring reminder of how superstitious beliefs still permeate our society. I can see the logic … [Read more...]

The Million-Dollar Challenge Ends

Some news from earlier this year you might have missed: James Randi is officially ending his million-dollar challenge to those who claim they have psychic or supernatural powers. The challenge will be offered for two more years, and assuming no one succeeds and claims the money, will be terminated in March 2010.It's not hard to see why Randi would do this. After ten years without a single successful applicant, I think he's made his point. Unsurprisingly, the best-known, most prominent psychic … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions VIII: Anti-Vaccine Hysteria

In all of human history, the invention of vaccination should be classed as one of our greatest medical triumphs. This innovation has saved millions of lives and prevented untold suffering and misery; it has brought many once-epidemic diseases under control, and eradicated others altogether. Tragically, our era has seen a dangerous new strain of pseudoscience emerge, one that threatens all of these gains.The theory behind vaccines is conceptually simple. Human beings possess an exquisitely … [Read more...]

The Cure for Cancer! (Cure Not Included)

The other day, I received a jaw-dropping piece of spam e-mail:The Detox Box is a remarkable device that uses frequencies to destroy toxins in the body. It's similar to how a singer can hit a note and shatter a wine glass.According to the e-mail, this marvelous machine is based on the ideas of one Dr. Royal Rife, who lived in the 1930s and claimed to have developed the world's first "virus microscope". (It is physically impossible to resolve the average virus with a light microscope, … [Read more...]


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