Sunday, February 23, 2014

Pseudoscience the Left Likes

Not only the left. And, oddly enough, a firm run by a libertarian.

I don't usually link to other people's posts, but this one is worth reading. It fits, in an odd way, with my old post about who really does or doesn't believe in evolution.

Everyone is in favor of science—except when he isn't.


js290 said...

"GMO opponents block projects that could save lives in the developing world" sounds like a faith based proposition... not sure what the point of that article was. That his faith is better than your faith?

Anonymous said...

js290, in case you have not noticed, he did back up that claim with a link to

Jonathan said...

People who associate themselves strongly with the political left or right are in grave danger of embarrassment by association.

As I don't associate myself with either, I'm not embarrassed by their defects. :)

I have only my only personal defects to worry about, and that's enough for me.

lelnet said...

It does not strike me as _remotely_ odd that a firm run by a self-described (and not without cause) libertarian would, in the conduct of its commercial affairs, cater to the interests and prejudices which are common among its core customer base, regardless of any evidence about their conformance with objective reality.

I won't speak to the question of what John Mackey may or may not actually believe in private about questions in science, but it's worth noting that a praiseworthy adherence to non-insane economic theories and the non-aggression principle does not necessarily imply that a person's beliefs in other, unrelated areas won't be a bit kooky. Indeed, whether one knows the man or not, "some of his beliefs are likely to strike you as kooky" is the safe way to bet, based on the accumulated evidence from one's previous interactions with one's fellow libertarians.

Gordon said...

I commented on FB before I saw your entry here. What I said there was: I don't see a conflict with the reported business practices and Mackey's views. Mackey focuses on the customer, rather than the shareholder, and WF seems to be giving the customers what they want. In a famous exchange in Reason Magazine, Milton Friedman argued that by focusing on the customer, Mackey was "really" focusing on the shareholder. That has always struck me as an uncharacteristically weak reply. As to "doing something ...better than maximizing profits", in the Reason Magazine exchange, Mackey defended WF's policy of donating 5% of profits to charity as something his shareholders voluntarily bought into when they purchased WF stock. (And, again, Milton Friedman's reply was uncharacteristically weak). Nothing in that commits him to believing what many or most of WF's customers believe about various health claims.

Anonymous said...

I actually like the thrust of the article, which can be rephrased as something like "the fast majority of humanity entertains non-rational beliefs." which is no surprise. And, indeed, I don't care if you believe crystal vibrations will fix your chakras or that Jesus ran a dinosaur petting zoo. I do care when that bleeds into politics and things like herd immunity.

On the latter, I'd endorse a requirement to carry liability insurance for vaccine deniers, which seems like a suitably libertarian solution, at least to this former libertarian/ now liberalish person. And I'd be fine with parents who want to homeschool of send their kids to private schools miseducating their kids about whatever bullshit they like. But pushing factually incorrect bullshit into public schools (which are not going away) is out of bounds.

Kevin S. Van Horn said...

Re "vaccine deniers" by Anonymous: In my book, the use of the word "denier" for someone who disagrees with you on a matter of scientific fact is a dishonest propaganda tactic that seeks to smuggle in associations with holocaust deniers without having to explicitly support such an outrageous connection.

Just because some vaccines have a net benefit for many/most people does not mean that every single vaccine the pharma companies may come up with has a net benefit for everyone and should be forcibly imposed on everyone. Nor does it rule out the possibility that some common practices in administrating vaccines (e.g. multiple vaccines all at once) may be unwise.

Anonymous said...


You are, of course, free to interpret my heroic however you like. Suffice to say that I had no thoughts of Holocaust deniers when I wrote that - I consider it useful shorthand, nothing more. Feel free to take a page from other controversies and mentally substitute "skeptic" as you see fit.

Speaking of smuggling in assumptions, I never denied that immunizations may be harmful for a given person, that they are optimally administered, etc. I don't know whom you are arguing with. And you may note I proposed insurance as a way to assume personal responsibility for those who feel they would rather not risk whatever they may fear about the shots.

Anonymous said...

Damn iPad autocorrect. For "heroic" read "rhetoric".

Anonymous said...

David is way off on this one. Please keep to things that you know about, David (on which you generally do very good work). And when you don't have great knowledge of an area, then simply admit it and raise a question about the reasonableness of some article. The author of the article also had no understanding of the science and non-science of what he wrote about and appears to be a believer in the dogma put out by the medical establishment (as David also appears to be). I only have time for one example:

"You can buy chocolate with “a meld of rich goji berries and ashwagandha root to strengthen your immune system,”

Each of the three mentioned ingredients in this food item has much peer-reviewed science journal studies which provide good evidence for that claim. The only downside would be if the chocolate contains a large percentage of sugar.

Tibor said...

Paul: The author of the article mentions it several times that not all that is being sold in the wholesale shops is bullshit. He only claims that a part of it is close to snake oil and that the reason why a lot of the shoppers buy those things is based much more on faith than anything else (by the way I particularly love when food is advertised as having no chemicals in it...I wonder if you could sue the producer for deliberately lying about the contents :)) ). Of course he could have misjudged some products, however things like putting up warning signs about a blade which is used for "both organic and other bread" actually sounds rather funny and the simile with kosher cuisine seems to be a very good one.

I agree with you on one thing - there can be some things that are looked down upon by modern western medicine while they actually help. The doctors have a strong lobby and they don't like other people taking the business from them. But my guess that these are probably a minority among a vast majority of new age hogwash and snake oil sellers and so it will take a considerable effort to find those out.

This table is helpful:


Bruce said...

There's a real difference between experimental stuff with some poetic placebo effect, and cultish gibberish. There's a real overlap too.

The bread-slicer that says 'this slicer used for organic and nonorganic bread' may split the difference. Organic believers go come and cut their organic bread with home slicers unblemished by crimethink. People who dislike bugs in their bread go home and slice their bread with clean knives. Tough guys who don't care ignore the sign. Universal happiness!

Anonymous said...

Tibor: Thanks muchly for your response, I admit that I did not finely read and assess the entire article. I was more concerned with its smearing title against Whole Foods, particularly when Sprouts, Trader Joe's and many other markets have very similar product lines and approaches, and every so-called "natural foods" store in North America (and likely the world) is even worse. I purchase at the above listed because of their excellent quality foods and often excellent prices. Yes, many snake oil claims are definitely a part of this industry, but it is certainly not exclusive to Whole Foods nor are they even the worst (as I have pointed out).
Regarding the "no chemicals", yes it is somewhat comical, but then it depends on the meaning of the word "chemical" whether it is the scientific meaning or what has come to be understood vernacularly - added inorganic and/or xenobiotic chemicals.
I am pleased to see agreement on the bias of established medicine but from my experience it is supported by a large majority of medical professionals of all kinds. And particularly if you include all the government regulatory and funding agencies, there is definitely a strong bias against any possibility that foods and food-based dietary supplements will have any major preventative health benefits.

Anonymous said...

I concluded long ago that stupidity is bipartisan. Also, there is a demand for pseudoscience and religion, so there will always be a supply.

Funny thing in this case is that the supply comes from the right and the demand comes from the left. I love free markets.

Will McLean said...

"I'm shocked, shocked to find that that pandering to irrational beliefs has been going on in here!"
"Your winnings, Captain Rothbard."
"Oh, thank you, very much. "

Fred Mangels said...

Seems to me the bottom line is people will believe whatever "science" they feel comfortable believing. Those on either side of fluoridated water, vaccines, or global warming are pretty much committed to their belief.

With that in mind, the most important thing should be that nobody be allowed to force their science on others, at least to whatever extent possible. I do realize that's probably a pipe dream.

With water fluoridation, though, I think it's quite feasible to accommodate both sides, with the exception that the fluoridators don't believe in freedom of choice.

Power Child said...

I think what most "natural grocery" shoppers are really paying for is not having to be around people like this when they do their shopping.

Tibor said...

Paul: I don't think that the author considered Whole Foods to be special in particular. It is just that it is probably the most well known of these kind of shops. I personally have never heard of any of those other ones you mention, then again there are different companies of this kind in Europe (I have not seen any Whole Foods store around here either...and I can't recall the local brand names...also in Europe instead of "organic", the brand name is usually "bio").

I understand the different meaning of chemical people use. But often it is more like a "magic word" that makes people buy and not think. You tell some people that this is "100% bio organic natural food from a local farm" and they just go for that because "those words mean it is good for you"...even if what they are buying is a piece of smoked ham :)

But that is still far from koscher slicers and other things which, in my opinion, are just obviously silly to anyone who does not actually think about this in the ways people usually think about their faith.

And of course then you have all the auras, healing stones and other "magical" rubbish like that...which is rather popular among some of the people who are fond of "organic/bio" food (which is almost as funny as "no chemicals"...unless you are trying to make it clear that this food does not consist entirely of salt) and alternative medicine. Young earth creationists are out of their mind. But these people are at least as much in my opinion.

JWO said...

The interesting thing to me is that the left hammers on about conservatives not believing in human evolution but not believing in human evolution has had little effect on the lives of those who hold those views or the lives of others. On the other hand anti GMO, anti nuclear power, anti pesticide, anti vaccination attitudes more common on the left can be quite costly.

Fred Mangels said...

Perhaps a bit off- topic, but some of you may be interested in the back and forth going on at one of our local papers over an op- ed on GMOs- an anti- GMO initiative being likely on our county ballot this year.

110 comments to the op- ed as I write this and most are pretty firm in their feelings on the issue, vague though those feelings often seem.

About the only thing not seen much of in the discussion is the usual tactic of global warming believers totally belittling any arguments contrary to their beliefs. They come close to it, but not as bad as the global warming Believers: