Category: Pseudoscience

Skeptics vs. Quacks: Who’s winning?

http://twitter.com/#!/bengoldacre/status/60028892009861120

Last week, the British market research firm YouGov published findings from a national UK opinion survey on complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). While the survey focused on CAM in general, YouGov chose to focus on the findings for homeopathy in their publicity materials. In summary, 43% of the sample believed homeopathy to be either “definitely” or “possibly” effective. Given that 20% reported not having a particular view (i.e., “Don’t know”), this meant that only 37% explicitly reported skepticism. In other words, of those adults willing to express an opinion, the majority expressed some level of belief in the effectiveness of homeopathy. This is despite the well established biological implausibility and medical inefficacy of homeopathic treatment.

Similar results emerged for other CAM treatments, suggesting that belief in pseudoscientific medicine continues to prosper in the UK. Noted science writer, blogger, and top skeptic Ben Goldacre even posted a tweet implying that the figures undermined claims that science advocates were “winning” the war on quackery (a point he elaborated in a subsequent blog post). However, should we really be that pessimistic? Because despite these initial impressions, the details within the figures may actually contain some encouraging signs. Continue reading “Skeptics vs. Quacks: Who’s winning?”

Towards a quantum Theory of Everything (including dirty dishes)

Perhaps few words in contemporary science have been abused as much as “quantum”. Simply put, a quantum is the minimum amount of an entity that can actually do anything. One example is a photon, which is the minimum amount of light that can be involved in an electromagnetic interaction. The study of such tiny particles, which exist at a truly infinitesimal level of minuteness, has become known as quantum physics, and is regarded by physicists as having the potential to underpin a so-called Theory of Everything — one that fully explains all known physical phenomena and predicts the outcome of all possible experiments. While we are not quite that far just yet, quantum physics does have significant practical applicability in industrial contexts, with estimates suggesting that up to 30% of the gross national product of the US is accounted for by inventions made possible by quantum mechanics. Therefore, while remaining committed to the long-term holy grail of explaining the universe, perhaps for now we should be happy just to settle for consolation prizes like, erm, quantum dishwasher powder.

Or more specifically: “FINISH® QUANTUM®“, part of the FINISH® “multi-benefit dishwashing tablets and pacs” range produced in the UK by Reckitt Benckiser plc. Interestingly, actual physicists don’t typically seek to protect their jargon by registering scientific descriptors as legal trademarks. But surprise surprise, actual quantum physics has little or nothing to do with this product. Continue reading “Towards a quantum Theory of Everything (including dirty dishes)”

The Babel Fish Dilemma: Talking Science with Non-Scientists

Last night I gave a public lecture in Dublin for the Irish Skeptics Society, entitled “The Babel Fish Dilemma: Talking Science with Non-Scientists“. The Irish Skeptics, under the leadership of psychologists Paul O’Donoghue and Nóirín Buckley, have been organizing a public lecture series on science engagement, critical thinking, and skepticism that has run continuously since 2002. Many of their previous speakers have been extremely illustrious — included figures like James Randi, Matt Ridley, Ben Goldacre, Chris French, Richard Wiseman, and Simon Singh — so I was glad that my talk appeared to be well received by such an astute audience. While proceedings were not recorded, you can view the full slideshow above. The abstract for the talk was as follows: Continue reading “The Babel Fish Dilemma: Talking Science with Non-Scientists”

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