Reading between the lines
Talk about Bad science here
Thursday April 22, 2004
Â· There are times when a boy can feel terribly alone. Like when you’re standing in the medical section of the academic Waterstone’s in London, and you suddenly realise that you’re surrounded by people earnestly browsing 100ft of shelf space devoted to made-up alternative therapies, sandwiched between the orthopaedics and physiology sections. Reader Mark Lorch was there in spirit. “I was horrified by what the Heathrow Terminal One WH Smith considered popular science. While browsing the pop science section I found The Stargate Conspiracy by Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince alongside Matt Ridley’s fantastic Genome. And it got worse. Nostrodamus: The Final Prophecies by Luciano Sampietro was perched next to the gripping Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh. And the final irony, Richard Dawkins’s The Blind Watchmaker sharing a shelf with The Bible Code by Michael Dronsin.” Particularly appropriate, given Dawkins’s attitude to religion. “I ask you, how the hell are people going to tell the difference between real and bad science when that claptrap is peddled next to excellent science books?”
Â· It’s enough to get you thinking about the nature of science. Critical self-appraisal and careful examination of new ideas might be high on your list of ways in which to develop meaningful theories; alternative therapists, meanwhile, are cheerfully enshrining their inflexible opposition to both in their codes of practice. I give you the code of ethics of the International Society of Professional Homeopaths: “Members must present a united front to the public and should not imply criticism of colleagues, either in writing or before clients or the general public.” Cosy. And the World Chiropractic Alliance’s “guidelines for straight chiropractic” leave little room for discussion: a practitioner’s clinical assessment is “inviolable” and their judgment is “the final authority”.
Â· Some things are beyond criticism, such as the new Jinlida JLD-2000 Negative Ioniser from China. Breathe in, and feel the words waft over you: “Our all know rub can give birth to electricity … airy molecule rub as well as can electrify … At air minus ion few, is able to gas-bored, feel ill, in a bad skin, easy issue sickness. Air minus ion reply cast iron advantage …” Breathe in again: “Boost up resistance, along with minus ion deepness add, blood serum globin is able to distinctness add; antibody add.” Breathe out deeply; feel the healing poetry of pseudoscience, and repeat: “I believe.”