30 January 2012

Welcome to the House Of Quack

For millennia, humanity has lived in ignorance and fear for just about anything and everything. Like any animal, we lived in holes, in nests, largely unprotected from both the environment and predators. The world must have seemed a terrifying place in those days. Earthquakes, volcanoes, thunder and lightning, disease that struck without warning, hunts that went well, hunts that went no so well, it is a chaotic and unpredictable environment out there.

Just as is now still the case for our non-human fellow primates, we spent most of our time looking for food, fighting off competitors and predators and procreating.

With the advent of agriculture and its gradual improvement, that all started to change and a privileged few could be liberated from the daily chores and pay more attention to the world and how it functioned. In the beginning, these were the shamans and druids and medicine men, spending all their time looking for explanations, predictions and cures. Later came the priestly classes and the gods they taught us to worship.

Superstition in general and religion in particular should therefore not be dismissed as merely primitive and stupid. They were our first -though worst- attempts at explaining the world around us, and therefore they deserve at least some attention. Via philosophy, they brought us science.

These early methods to explain and adapt the world to our satisfaction didn't work very well, and more enterprising individuals started looking for natural ways to explain the world, rather than supernatural ones. We owe a lot to these pioneers of science. Doubtless the best-known of these are the ancient Greek scientists of around 2,000 years ago.

Then came religion's revenge. Christianity destroyed much of what had been achieved and replaced it with superstition, often enforced under the threat of death. Europe especially regressed to a pre-scientific stage of development, until some people finally became brave enough to stand up to religious tyranny, and a new enlightenment chased away the dark ages.

The results were astounding. In about 400 years' time, humanity grew from an arrested culture into a culture of achievement and new discoveries started to follow each other up at an ever more rapid pace. From a culture in which everything was done by hand we changed into a culture of mechanical devices and electronics. Life expectancy more than doubled and we discovered how the universe really functions and that deities of any type were not needed.

And yet, religion and superstition are now coming back with a vengeance. The signs of a new endarkenment age are everywhere. Primitive iron-age myths are being repackaged by snake-oil salespeople and alternologists and preachers and experts with impressive titles and certificates printed on the home printer that would never even have existed if they got everything their way.

Superstitions of all types could be -and often are- seen as a source of innocent amusement or harmless fun, but that is not what they are. These practices have their darker side and credulous people are not getting proper treatment, suffer and even die as a result. Children are being brainwashed, terrorised, mutilated and killed. All for the benefit of the bank accounts of the ruthless quacks exploiting the gullible, the vulnerable and the desperate.

In my own inner circle, I see people and even an entire family being destroyed by belief in the easy non-solutions of alternology. I see the quacks circling them, eager to relieve them from any money they may have, scurrying away like frightened cockroaches when that money seems to have disappeared, hurrying back when there is new bait. Looking around in your own inner circle, dear reader, will almost certainly reveal the same thing.

The Internet is a fantastic communication tool, but great benefits are accompanied by great dangers. The Internet offers charlatans, quacks, alternologists, conspiracy theorists, religionists and other nincompoops and snake-oil salespeople a cheap and easy pool in which to spread disinformation and fish for new prey.

Past experience has shown us that censorship and prohibition do not work. What remains is education about the nature of evidence, and why it is important. This is where the House Of Quack comes in.

The House Of Quack will select superstitions, medical quackeries and myths, study them, and separate fact from fiction. It will show you what the evidence is and why it is important.

Please enjoy the House Of Quack!


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This page was last updated on 14 February 2012

4 comments:

  1. Good morning, Bart...sounds like you'll have a good blog going here!

    Deb

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    1. Thank you for your nice comment, Deb. I will certainly do my best.

      Have a lovely day!

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  2. Hi Bart - Looking forward to this evolving.

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  3. Thanks, Kathleen! I hope I will not make you wait for too long. Unfortunately, evidence-based articles take a hell of a lot longer to write than ones created out of whole cloth.

    That frustrates me a bit, since the quacks always win: by the time the poor evidence-based guy has gathered all the evidence, thought it over, written a draft, thought it over, corrected the draft... and then finally published it with a lot of hesitation, fearing for some undetected mistake...

    ...the alternologist has already written and published a book or two, swindled hundreds of people and bought her/his second Mercedes.

    It's a bit like the police, really. Always accused for being too slow and too stupid to see the obvious, but when they make a preliminary arrest under loud acclaim of the public and then have to release the culprit because of lack of evidence, they are the ones being accused of willful mistakes, conspiracy and corruption, and intention to harm. They can't win.

    But in the end, one just has to look at the data the public is so uninterested in, and see that it actually made a difference.

    With skeptics, it's different of course. Almost no skeptic makes any money at all, thanks to skepticism. Skepticism isn't a job, it is an attitude, a loyalty to what is true. And when we see another life saved thanks to it, we forget about the pain it all caused (I hope ^_^).

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