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Dec 9, 2011               

Up to the knees in woo

There was no Nederlog yesterday, because I did a lot of background fixing for the site.

Today I have some background on woo, because it seems many people need it, and it explains quite a lot, indirectly.

1. What is woo?
2. Examples of woo
3. Criticisms aka 'critiques' of woo
4. What to do about woo?

1. What is woo?

To start at the beginning, here is a definitory description of woo from the rationalwiki.org. I quote most from the lemma, that may make some patients (or advocates) from some ME-forums think a little better (yes, I am an optimist, sometimes), because it is instructive and clear, for which reason I also kept the links:

The term generally implies a lack of either intelligence or sincerity on the part of the person or concepts so described. Despite the terrible name, it has become quite a popular term. Woo is sometimes synonymous with bullshit, and is generally defined by some of the following characteristics:

1. A simple idea that purports to be the one answer to many problems (which could include diseases)
2. A "scientific-sounding" reason for how it works, but no actual science behind it (or, sometimes, claims of a paranormal nature)
3. A claim of persecution, usually perpetrated by the pharmaceutical, medical, or scientific community
4. An invocation of a scientific authority
5. Lack of scientific research, but abundant testimonials
6. A claim that scientists are blind to the discovery, despite attempts to alert them
7. A disdain for objective, randomized experimental controls, especially double-blind testing
8. And, usually, an offer to share the knowledge for a price.

Usually, woo is not the description of an effect but the explanation as to why the effect occurs. For example, homeopathy does actually work, but as a placebo - the explanations for why it works, e.g. water memory, is woo. Woo is used to blind or distract an audience from a real explanation or to discourage people from delving deeper into the subject to find a more realistic explanation. You can't make money if nobody buys your bullshit.

I'd say all of the above applies to the XMRV-story as it has unfolded, but then I know some science and philosophy (thereof) and have never been particularly credulous.

In any case, as with religion: Most True Believers can see that the religions and the woo they don't themselves share are evidently nonsense mostly based on ignorance, stupidity and wishful thinking, and kept going socially because there simply is in virtually any community a democratic majority of the non-gifted and non-informed, who keep their delusions practised and followed by groupthinking and following leaders, and indeed also by persecuting whoever does not seem to respect the fashionable woo of the group.

Most good folks just can't see their own pet woo beliefs for what they are, often because their own woo caters to their own self-image, illusions and concerns, including health and understanding, and they may have spend a lot of time and money on it, which makes it much harder for them to admit they have been had.

So let me give some examples of woo that most people should be able to recognize or see through.

2. Examples of woo

My examples will relate to ME/CFS or at least with the types of woo people who have ME/CFS - or think they do - may meet with.

There is the woo of Phil Parker and his Lying ProcessTM, that I wrote about last year several times:

- Get your whee-whees cuddled...
- Of Bees, of Johnson, of Brain Tapping and more
- Radboud Ziekenhuis Nijmegen -
   Natural Home of the Lying ProcessTM
- LP nonsense
-  Norwegian about LP
- Fine skeptical diagnosis of LP +
   info on bogus therapies

As the third example shows, there is no clear boundary between psychiatry and woo, and indeed it is by far the most rational to look upon psychiatrists as woo masters, who just pretend to be medical scientists, which they can do because they have a degree in basic medicine, during which degree course they probably nearly all found out that the practice of a pseudoscience like psychiatry is far less demanding while also far better paid than most jobs for real medical scientists.

Indeed, here is a doctor who feeds from both camps, who presently is engaged in abusing children to find out scientifically - in a highly profitable postmodern way, but all with the proud support of  an English Ethics Committee that couldn't see an ethics or a science if it spits them in the face - to find out whether abusing children (not: sexually, or so I suppose, but physically, morally, and financially) is harmful for children:

- Dr. Esther Crawley is a genius

But there are very many more examples of woo, and indeed Cort Johnson, the owner of the Phoenix Rising forums, seems to have spend decades of his life in states of woo:

- Be your Be-ing for hav-ing Wellness -
   Cort's Whee-Whee explained

In the last item I have my own fun with his woo prose, since when he produced no more of it (where I could see it, to be sure), but as someone who seems to have spend many years with or around est, which may be described as woo for the upper classes, since it is a bit more refined or sophisticated than the proles woo that aims at the masses.

Then it is again Cort Johnson who also supports woo for the masses: It was by way of Phoenix Rising that I got first enlightened about Abraham and the Hickses, who lived very well off Abraham (no less 40 spiritual intelligences speaking through the Hickses):

- The Hicks Scam

You find more about the Hickses in my explanation of Cort's Whee-Whee and by way of the last link, and may learn that John Hicks, who claimed to be able to heal any disease, perished of cancer November 18 last, surely a day a few patients with ME might see as meaningful: Hardly a Wise Healer Cort admires dies, or the same day a Wise Scientist got arrested - surely proof that Abraham must have seen to it:

- Dr. Mikovits arrested

3. Criticisms aka 'critiques' (*) of woo

There has been woo at least since Antiquity, though in earlier days it went under the guise of religion rather than science, and there are very many kinds of woo.

There also have been many criticisms of woo, including those by Epicurus, Lucretius and Lucian, while in this day and age, prominent critics of it are or were

- Martin Gardner
- James Randi + James Randi Educational Foundation

Both wrote quite a few interesting books on woo related topics, and I think it may have been Randi - who got well-known when he showed Uri Geller was a charlatan - who made the term "woo" popular.

Then again, a person may be interested in woo because one has been flimflammed or because one is interested in the study of human stupidity (a study sometimes known as morosophia, with Erasmus of Rotterdam as one of its holy men: See In Praise Of Folly) or because one has friends or family who are admirers or followers of woo.

One good resource of many things woo is here:

- The Skeptic's Dictionary

where you also find clear lessons on how to become a wooer:

- Creating Your Own Pseudoscience - part one
- Creating Your Own Pseudoscience - part two

From the same source, here is a link to a site and a book which clearly instructs you how to become very rich with woo:

- How to be a charlatan (sample)

The last link is just a bit from a whole book, and indeed the bit starts with the question "Do you sincerely want to be rich?", and proceeds through a distinction between charlatans and confidence tricksters, that also may be helpful to patients with ME/CFS.

If you want to be rich, and lack a conscience, this surely is one of the most promising and easiest way to become very rich quite fast. (Here is one example: Peter Popoff, the Wessely of faith-healing, just as Simon Wessely must be the Popoff of psychiatric healing).

4. What to do about woo?

The safest advice about woo is one of the following basic recipes: (1) sit back and enjoy - people are stupid, and it's a free show (2) as with anger: leave the room, and do something else, until you cooled down - there are very many more interesting and useful subjects.

This will cover most cases for most persons. The problems come especially (1) when one is ill with a rare disease and comes to depend - to a much too large extent - on the average rationality and honesty of either medical doctors or patients, when one is forced to learn that neither group has much of either article, on average, which makes it very much more difficult to get helpful treatments or indeed to have rational discussions with or advice from such folks, or (2) when one lives in a country one cannot escape that is ruled by a woo religious or political system of bullshit.

The advice remains the same: Enjoy it as you would Monty Python, or avoid it as you would all forms of insane religion, but it is true one's life may become a lot more difficult because of the woo most in one's own position or in a position to help one believe, practice, endorse, admire or tolerate and demand respect for.

And it may help to get some background on the bringers of woo:

- The Skeptic's Dictionary

already mentioned above, has a lot of relevant information, as does the also already mentioned

- Rational Wiki

This last item may seem somewhat or rather political, according to some, but it is a useful antidote to much nonsense, and more or less the same applies to the following item, in which you may find quite a few U.S. celebs, including Mrs Hicks (under March 2011), whose ideas are so much admired by Cort Johnson:

- Encyclopedia of American Loons

For more help and more fun see my

- The tragi-comical human fundamental problem

(*) I detest the word "critique" that clueless pseudoscientists and those who pretend to be intelligent love to use if they mean to criticize someone or something as if they will do it in A Learned Fashion: It is a hegemonic pomo-term, that is idiotic and pretentious, that should serve as a sign that it is highly probable that its users do not have much of a clue about what hey are talking about. I have not known any intelligent person, the last 30+ years, who used the word "critique" in English, who was not either a pomo dimwit or ironically sarcastic.

Corrections, if any are necessary, have to be made later.
-- Dec 17, 2011: Corrected a few typos and unclarities.


As to ME/CFS (that I prefer to call ME):
1.  Anthony Komaroff Ten discoveries about the biology of CFS (pdf)
3.  Hillary Johnson The Why
4.  Consensus of M.D.s Canadian Consensus Government Report on ME (pdf)
5.  Eleanor Stein Clinical Guidelines for Psychiatrists (pdf)
6.  William Clifford The Ethics of Belief
7.  Paul Lutus

Is Psychology a Science?

8.  Malcolm Hooper Magical Medicine (pdf)
 Maarten Maartensz
ME in Amsterdam - surviving in Amsterdam with ME (Dutch)
 Maarten Maartensz Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

Short descriptions of the above:                

1. Ten reasons why ME/CFS is a real disease by a professor of medicine of Harvard.
2. Long essay by a professor emeritus of medical chemistry about maltreatment of ME.
3. Explanation of what's happening around ME by an investigative journalist.
4. Report to Canadian Government on ME, by many medical experts.
5. Advice to psychiatrist by a psychiatrist who understands ME is an organic disease
6. English mathematical genius on one's responsibilities in the matter of one's beliefs:

7. A space- and computer-scientist takes a look at psychology.
8. Malcolm Hooper puts things together status 2010.
9. I tell my story of surviving (so far) in Amsterdam/ with ME.
10. The directory on my site about ME.

See also: ME -Documentation and ME - Resources
The last has many files, all on my site to keep them accessible.

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