Angry Words With Friends
It’s a terrible feeling to learn that you’ve been had. There isn’t an “expert” among us that isn’t also susceptible to being fooled by scams, hoaxes, and frauds. The best we can do is to learn to spot the red-flags to be fooled less often, and to help others from falling victim to similar schemes. Pseudoscience is so titled because it is designed to seem legitimate.
As it happens, we occasionally approach the subject of pseudoscience with friends and family – consequences be damned. We do this because we’ve learned, often the hard way, that swindlers can be ruthless. Afterword we are lucky to escape with speaking terms intact.
Tread carefully, a straightforward and honest criticism of false practices such as acupuncture may be adversely interpreted as an attack on the character of their dear uncle the acupuncturist. Good intentions and sound science count for little against family anecdotes. Then comes the crux of the issue:
“If it helps me feel better, why do you care?”
I care because there is a fundamental difference between relief and treatment. You get a massage because you feel better for it and I don’t disagree in the least for you doing so. Coffee and wine are both potentially harmful substances that I enjoy (albeit with scientifically proven active ingredients). I’m not arguing against the products and rituals that you enjoy for the simple sake of enjoyment.
The problem is that peddlers of ‘holistic’, ‘naturopathic’, ‘integrative’, ‘complementary and alternative medicine’ and even ‘crystal-healers’ aren’t selling enjoyment or relaxation. They advertise as sound medical treatment, even so far as a cure for all that ails you. I care because these shams, while they certainly make people feel better (explained by a number of causes unrelated to the particulars of their ‘treatment’), makes people less likely to pursue sound medical advice. It can be heartbreaking to see acquaintances desperate for relief being passed from physician to Doctor of Osteopathy to chiropractor to acupuncturist to herbalist to psychic, all the while spending time and money getting further away from medical advice they need. On rare occasions these unproven, under-regulated therapies and supplements can be dangerous. Whether intentional or not, statements made by these practitioners are misleading and unethical.
If, knowing this, you still want to pay good money to balance your chakras with some magic christmas lights then by all means enjoy an hour of relaxation.
Friends and family will be frustrated when you try to take away their pet placebo. They will feel as if by attacking an idea they embrace you are attacking them personally. Hopefully your Facebook subscription will survive to see the dawn. But most importantly, maybe they’ll recognize a red-flag in the future.