Friday, February 09, 2007

Why Skepticism? (Part 3)

And it seems that just a single post later, I'm again continuing a series I'd thought finished. Well, events just made it appropriate. I was actually planning for this to be a stand-alone post at first, but when I realized it worked perfectly as the third part to this series, I figured, "Why not?" (Yes, again.)

If you haven't, I highly recommend you read the first two posts in this series (particularly the second, in which I mathematically disprove faith. Seriously):

Part 1 - "The Dark Room"

Part 2 - "The Uncertainty Proof"

And now...

Part 3 - "The Method Behind the Lack of Madness"

Recently, Skeptico got into a debate with some anti-New-Agers who happened to believe in acupuncture. The basic chain of events you should check out is:

1. The original post by Cosmic Connie
2. Skeptico's complaint of censorship and reply
3. RevRon's critique of skeptics
4. Rockstar Ryan's big "Screw you, too!" to Ron

To sum it up: Cosmic Connie made a post criticizing Gregg Braden and his publicity for his new book, The Divine Matrix. Skeptico stepped in to compliment her for it. After a few rounds of polite discussion of subjects such as "Is it more appropriate to call them 'Newage' (rhymes with 'sewage') or 'New Wage'?" a commenter who had browsed Skeptico's blog took issue with his critique of acupuncture.

From there, it turned into a full-scale debate on the merits of and scientific basis for acupuncture, with Skeptico facing off against Connie, this commenter, and Connie's beau, Ron. Reading through the debate, it didn't seem to really be all that heated or rude, just Skeptico doing his thing. There was mounting frustration on both sides, though (and it seems to me that Ron was the first to get rude). And then after one post by Ron, the thread stopped.

The discussion then continued on Skeptico's blog. Skeptico explained that he had sent in another comment to the discussion which tore apart Ron's last comment, but Connie had refused to post it. She claimed that it was an attack on Ron and that the debate had turned into a "pissing contest" which she didn't want to have on her blog.

Now, I'll interject with my own opinion on the matter here: If you don't want to have heated debates on your blog, that's alright. But don't let it go on for a while and then cut it off after your side gets the last word; that's just poor form. If you do feel the need to cut it off at a certain point, then maybe you should point to some other place it would be appropriate to hold it (the JREF Forums are always a good choice for stuff like this), and leave a comment at the end that the debate continues there.

The debate then did continue over at Skeptico's blog, and there was now a debate about the debate (which reminds me of the US Congress's recent idiocy when they held a vote on whether or not to hold a vote, but I digress). Ron made not one, but two posts which said they would be his lasts words on the matter. And then after that, he made a big post on his blog criticizing skeptics. This particular post is the subject of this entry here, so I highly recommend you read it before continuing.

What is a skeptic?

Skeptics nowadays suffer from a poor public image, though it's not for lack of trying (and it is improving, we just haven't gotten the label to stick in the public's mind yet). When the average person thinks of a skeptic, it's generally what we call the "Hollywood Skeptic" they think about. This is the person you see in the average monster movie who denies the monster exists right up until he's eaten by it. From this, the public develops an image of the skeptic of being an irrational denier.

This is quite similar to Ron's view of skeptics. He sees us as being like intellectual cliques from high school. These were people he saw who "emerged from the Science or Philosophy Clubs" and would "gather to reaffirm their uniqueness in a culture which demanded a conformity and social finesse they somehow lacked." As he says:

These self-proclaimed intelligentsia were admittedly interesting to talk to, until they began their cerebral wagon-circling, bemoaning the inferiority of those outside their circle. At that point, they became pretty toxic and frankly, boring, and those of us who merely visited on their periphery would inevitably wander off in search of more positive interactions, leaving the kids (typically labeled losers or weirdos) to their cerebral circle jerk.

I’d frankly forgotten about these kids, having long ago discovered that actually living a life was more rewarding than sitting on the outside taking shots at it, and that a sense of wonder was more enriching than pessimistic disenchantment. The other day, however, I discovered that the kids are still around, and just as alienated as ever. Only now, they call themselves skeptics or critical or rational thinkers.


To sum up his beliefs about skeptics:
  • We're clique-ish. That is, we won't let anyone in who doesn't conform to everything we do and believe.
  • We're stuck-up and egotistical.
  • We're rude to outsiders.
  • We're boring.
  • We're negative.
  • We have no sense of wonder.
  • We don't actually live life; we just take potshots at it.
His problems in characterizing skeptics are immediately obvious. First, he's basing his opinions off of one interaction with one skeptic. Secondly, he's trying too hard to shoehorn us to match his metaphor of the intellectual cliques he saw in his high school (I'll also digress to note that not all intellectual groups are like this at all, particularly the people I hung out with when I was in high school - though of course, I may be biased). Ron also goes on to accuse skeptics of being more interested in being "more concerned with being right than with enjoying a discussion." In this, he's accusing skeptics of being overly dogmatic, as if there are a ton of skeptical tenets that are not to be questioned.

But this isn't what a skeptic is at all. If you want to get an idea of what real skeptics are like, head on over to Google Videos and watch an episode of Mythbusters. Yes, they're skeptics. Other things to note:
  • They aren't clique-ish.
  • They aren't stuck-up or egotistical.
  • They aren't rude.
  • They aren't boring.
  • They aren't negative.
  • They have senses of wonder.
  • They do indeed have - and enjoy - their own lives
And here's the big one: Their goal is never to be right with their preconceived beliefs. Their goal is always simply to find out the truth. Their predictions are very often proven to be wrong, and they're never ashamed of it. This is what truly defines a skeptic. We have no big list that says something like "Astrology bad, Astronomy good, Acupuncture bad, Big Pharma good, Chiropractic bad, James Randi good, etc." Instead, a skeptic is defined by someone who wants to find out what is real using the best means at their disposal. Simply put, we care about reality, and we want to find out what it is.

This is what differentiates skepticism from most belief systems: We don't have beliefs, we have methods. We use methods such as the Scientific Method, logic, and Occam's Razor in order to determine what indeed is real. The reason skeptics tend to be uniformly against fields such as acupuncture is because these methods have revealed them to not actually work (or to work no better than a placebo).

The Scientific Method


I can anticipate the objections to this already: "But science doesn't know everything! Science was wrong in the past! Science doesn't apply to this! Now you're just being dogmatic about your method!" As you can see from the links, all of this has been said and addressed many times before. Nevertheless, I'll take some time to address it myself (I know there are a few trolls who refuse to click on links which may lead them to information or arguments they won't like).

The key point here is that science has proven itself to be the best method we have at discovering reality. A simple look at human history will reveal this to you: From the dawn of civilization until the early 17th century, humanity's understanding of the world remained in a rather stagnant state. There were advances here and there, but they were mostly through luck. The would-be-inquiring minds of the day were stuck in the old method of "Here's what we believe; how do we prove it?"

It was then that things turned around, thanks in large part to one relentlessly skeptical mind: Galileo Galilei (one of the few non-royal people to be so famous they're known by their first name). Galileo realized that reality was best determined by asking it questions. That is, he came up with an unknown about the universe, and then conducted an experiment. The experiment was designed so that its result would be self-evident from the data, and that either result would be theoretically possible. In retrospect, in seems obvious, but it was a critical step towards our understanding of the universe.

Galileo was shortly joined by the greats Francis Bacon and René Descartes, who supported and refined the scientific method. From there, things just exploded. Our knowledge of the world went into a hyper-exponential climb, and it was science that led to every great breakthrough. In that time, no other method led to a single significant breakthrough. It was science all the way. Is it any wonder we use it now to determine reality?

But even with all that, we aren't close-minded about it. If there's a method of determining reality better than science, I'd genuinely like to hear about it. But be warned, you're going to have a hard road ahead of you. You'll first have to describe it (something a lot of people actually fail to do), then you'll have to describe how it's better than science, and then you'll have to show that it's better than science. Frankly, I don't think anyone will be able to do it (refining the scientific method, on the other hand, is quite possible), but I'll admit it's a possibility.

Clearing the Skies


There's one last criticism of skeptics I'd like to address: That we only try to shoot things down and never try to expand our knowledge of the world. First of all, this simply isn't true for me. Personally, I'm actively engaged in trying to expand our understanding of the world, working on a research project that has to do with designing photonic crystal waveguides for use with quantum computing and quantum cryptography. I know most of you probably won't have any idea what I was talking about there, but I in fact wrote it to illustrate exactly that point: Modern science is hard, and is far beyond the understanding of most people. This is why you don't see every Average Joe on the street contributing to the expansion of human knowledge.

Skepticism, on the other hand, is a fair bit easier. In order to be a good skeptic, one really only needs a good understanding of logic, the scientific method, and common fallacies. With just this, you'd be surprised how much pseudoscience you can take down. A moderate or advanced understanding of science helps as well, but it's far from critical.

But just because skepticism is easier and involves shooting down ideas doesn't mean it's inherently bad or worthless. Take a look at the way the modern world works: We just don't have room for everything. When it comes to scientific pursuits, there's limited funding available. If money is spend researching claims that are obviously bogus, less of it is available to be spent on pursuits that would actually be beneficial. On the more human side, what happens when people choose a bogus medical treatment over a scientifically-established one? In the worst case, they can die from it (okay, the worst is actually when they take others with them. That's actually happened a few times). And when pseudoscience and mythology lead people into a religion, which leads them into a religious war, the value of realism becomes very apparent.

25 comments:

Rockstar Ryan said...

Bravo!

Make sure and send that one to the Circle.

I also hate that stereotype of the Hollywood skeptic. If anyone met me in the meatworld, they'd see I'm pretty far from the dreary, be-spectacled, Sagan-worshipping (true, though) dork persona they create for us.

That's why I jumped on Ron. And it felt good. And he needs to withdraw his claims.

(Worthles trivia - verification is wtfctoc)

Omer said...

Explaining and interpreting science to a comman man is an art. Every time I make an effort to explain my research work (also on photonic crystal waveguides) to my family I am lost for words. My mom still thinks it has something to do with black holes :)

Cosmic Connie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RevRon's Rants said...

Infophilia -

I really enjoyed reading your post. It was well-reasoned, and lacked the rancor of many recent comments on the subject.

One thing with which I would take exception is the notion that I characterize all skeptics according to the "Hollywood skeptic" description. Such is not the case. I won't ply the tired, "Some of my best friends are...," but I do enjoy discussions with a number of friends who are much more skeptical than I. However, there are some who have participated in these dialogs that do a fine job of perpetuating that stereotype, and it is them to whom I was referring.

That stereotype was greatly reinforced by the repeated statements that I was just another "woo," holding forth a "straw man," statements made by individuals who were, themselves, assuming to know me and my "kind" based purely upon their decision to personalize a few statements I made. It is my understanding that a true skeptic bases conclusions upon the dispassionate analysis of extensive research, rather than defensively jumping to emotionally-charged conclusions based upon a few random bits of information. If one follows the discussions, it should become obvious rather quickly that the responses did not reflect a skeptic ideology so much as the stereotype to which I was comparing the contributors.

It was for that reason that I chose to remove myself from the discussions. My return, in hindsight, was ill-advised, as further attempts at discussion were only met with continued deterioration of the respect and civility that are necessary components of any debate whose purpose is the exchange of ideas, rather than "handing someone their ass." :-)

Cosmic Connie said...

I’ll solve the mystery of the “deleted comment.” I deleted it because upon reflection, it appeared I was speaking for Ron and that I was trying to drag him back into a debate in which he didn’t want to participate. But since he has now responded (independently making many of the same points I’d touched on), here is my original response, with additional comments. Within the original, the text in [brackets] denotes my annotations.

1. I have acknowledged that I handled the [original acupuncture] debate poorly. I take responsibility for that, and have learned from this experience. If I could go back and do it over, I would have either prevented the debate from beginning at all, or redirected it to another forum, as some have suggested. I was not familiar with the skeptics' forums because I don't spend a lot of time on [those] discussion forums. I have a better idea of how to handle this in the future, should such a situation arise again. [Also in the future, when I make a comment on someone else’s blog, I’ll let it stand.]

2. Although this recent incident provided the impetus for Ron's post, he was *also* basing his opinions on other people he has known (in the years *after* high school) -- real people, not "Hollywood skeptics" or "straw men."

3. OTOH, "some of our best friends" etc. etc. etc. [Pardon the cliché.] Both Ron and I have friends who are skeptics as well as friends who are more or less new-agers. By far most of our friends -- as well as the majority of the populace, I think -- are somewhere in between. Although I recognize some people's need to take a strong stance on one side or the other, most things can't be simplified into skeptic/rationalist vs. woo. There's a huge area in between, and that's where most people live. Of course, I realize that some of you believe 95% of people are morons, and that may be true, but somehow we're bumbling through our lives.

4. For the record, neither Ron nor I believe, and neither of us has ever claimed, that acupuncture can cure or prevent diseases. Sure, there are so-called acupuncturists and acupuncture web sites that make these claims. IMO, they are irresponsible and full of crap. Furthermore, I don't even like acupuncture all that much, and have only used it one time myself. It seemed to help my condition but frankly, I'd rather have pain pills. I do believe acupuncture works on some kinds of pain, that it probably needs more study, and that in some cases it seems to be a good alternative to surgery or drugs.

5. To believe in the effectiveness of acupuncture for some cases is not to be anti-science or pro-woo. It would seem that some have been projecting the stereotype of the "Hollywood woo" onto Ron and me.

6. I have never believed that all skeptics, or even all scientists, are boring dorks, or that they are incapable of feeling joy. I've known some who are boring and/or miserable, and some who aren't. I've known some boring, miserable new-age dorks too. And I've known skeptics and new-agers alike who are happy as pigs in shit. Go figure.

7. Ryan, I really think Ron has grown bored with this discussion, so y'all are just going to have to carry on without him. [This was in response to a comment by Rockstar Ryan.]

==END ORIGINAL POST==

Obviously I was wrong about number 7, but then again, I’ve been wrong before and have a sneaking suspicion I will be again. Apparently Ron was as drawn to Infophilia’s reasoned, well-written and abuse-free post as I originally was.

I also realize that from a logic standpoint, none of the above validates or invalidates any of the arguments put forth, and the studies cited, by any of the participants re the efficacy or lack thereof of acupuncture (though number 4 touches on it). However, the larger matter of skeptic v. woo (IMO, a mostly imaginary battle, in this case) has taken on a life of its own, and that is what I was addressing in most of my comments above.

Re point number 5, I have based many of my own judgments of *some* skeptics as well as most new-agers on real people I have known, not “straw men” or Hollywood stereotypes. The rest, particularly the new-age parodies on my blog, are based on what I see in various media – especially online media – nearly every day. For the most part, I have used humor to get my point across, as in the case of this essay poking fun at the new age, which was published many years ago in, of all places, Skeptical Inquirer: http://home.swbell.net/moonshad/quantum.html. In this case I was using a composite, but am not exaggerating when I say I have had similar conversations to those in the essay.

Elaborating a bit on point number 6: Info, you and others have definitely made your case about skeptics not all being boring or stuffy. Believe it or not, I’ve been aware of this for many years. Skeptical inquiry and investigation may seem stuffy and straight-laced at times, but that just comes with the territory in the world of science and academics. :-). Geniuses such as the late Dr. Sagan have worked hard to popularize scientific discovery and investigation, and it’s a shame that they’ve had to compete with John Gray and the like. Debunking, or b.s. detecting, comes in many guises, and many of them are entertaining as well as informative, e.g., Cecil Adams’ long-running franchise “The Straight Dope,” or Chris Locke’s Mystic Bourgeoisie blog, or Steve Salerno’s SHAM blog, or the “Mythbusters” cited by Info, or even John Stossel’s exposés of consumer scams on ABC.

Info, you also made an excellent point about the shortage of research money and the need to set priorities, and your last paragraph is by far the most powerful and persuasive, though of course one can’t reasonably place a person who occasionally gets acupuncture treatments in the same category as a religious fanatic responsible for mass suicides or terrorist attacks. I’m sure that was not your intention.

I think that in stating our cases in this debate we have all been at times a bit condescending and dismissive of the other side. (I’m just as guilty of that as anyone else.) And that kills legitimate debate. As much as some might like this to be a simple battle between skeptic and woo, or smart and stupid, or good and evil, it’s just not that simple.

OMT: I remember something of what it is to be 21 and on fire to save the world. I also remember how difficult it is to hold hard and fast to a way of thinking, whether it's science or woo, when life situations present something to shake your beliefs. And that may very well happen in the years to come. It's happened to me a bunch of times. Science and logic won't get you through everything, but as a devout agnostic I can freely acknowledge the possibility that faith probably won't either. I am not trying to use this to refute science or the scientific method, especially since I believe that science has done far more to advance the human race, at least on a material level, than faith has. I also hope it doesn't sound condescending because that is definitely not my intention. It is just a personal observation and opinion that I somehow find relevant to the discussion.

I'm sorry this is so long. I do know better now than to promise that this is my final word on the subject :-), but I have to get back to work. Thank you for letting me have my say, Info.

Berlzebub said...

RevRon and Connie:

I have noticed that the instigator of the entire thing seemed to be a commentor on Connie's site going by "me". She was the one who went to Skeptico's blog, and took the comments on Connie's post off topic.

That being said, I don't want to keep stirring the pot, but I feel that some things should be said.

Skep offered to take the thread to another at the end of one post:
Connie:

I apologize for hijacking this thread, which was originally about Gregg Braden. I suggest if anyone wants to actually present some science about acupuncture, they start a thread to discuss it here.


Looking back over the comments on Connie's blog, and ignoring me/moi, it seemed to go downhill when RevRon said:
[Quoting Skeptico]"I don’t see any reason to believe “qi” even exists."

Spend a week in a classical dojo and see if you can say that. For that matter, do some research somewhere besides sources devoted to perpetuating your own preconceptions.

As I'd said, skepticism is a healthy - even necessary - element in any form of learning. But there's a big difference between skepticism and closed-mindnedness, and between believing everything and believing nothing at all. It's in that place where objectivity - and human growth - exists.

The "fact" of acupuncture's absolute worthlessness will just have to be your little secret. Enjoy it.


Now, before that, Skeptico was detailing why he thought RevRon's where in error, and that was it. He didn't resort to name calling, but then RevRon personally attacked Skeptico [In bold above]. Then, when Skeptico responded, Connie held the comment.

Frequenting skeptical blogs often, I can see why Skeptico would get upset. RevRon attacked Skeptico's character! Then, when Skep tried to respond, you did not publish the comment. In retaliation, Skep published it on his own blog. RevRon came to that post, then, attacking Skeptico further. After two comments, RevRon "picks up his ball and goes home" to post on his blog.

On Skeptico's blog, RevRon accused Skep of "Smug condescension", in the last comment that he makes. Then, he goes to his own blog, does his own post, and doesn't allow comments. To me, that seems a little smug.

Oh, and as I said on another blog, it's called accupuncture, not puncture. Which means, according to some of the references Skeptico sited, that it should not only deal with pain, but also aleviate or cure some symptoms of disease. If neither of you believed that (I will add that Connie said as much on her blog), then you should have said so when Skeptico first brought it up.

RevRon said:
If one follows the discussions, it should become obvious[link added by Berlz] rather quickly that the responses did not reflect a skeptic ideology so much as the stereotype to which I was comparing the contributors.

This is crap, RevRon. Skeptico backed up all of his responses with rational reasons, and/or links to support them. Before you not-so-subtly called him closed minded, he was being as civil as I've seen him. If you had been on his blog, he would probably have knocked you off your horse with the first post. However, considering your apparent closeness with Connie, he was more gentle than he would ordinarily be (and apparently he was correct about what Connie would do, otherwise).

Connie, I do love your blog, and really enjoy your sense of humor. However, RevRon, you seem to be a jerk. Know what, we're not on Connie's blog, so you're a jackass.

-Berlzebub

PS. Ad Hominem only counts when it's not backed up by facts and reasoning. If you can't handle that, I wouldn't get into another debate with a skeptic, or you will get your ass handed to you,... again.

Berlzebub said...

Oh, and I forgot to add, Great post, Info. I'm hoping to start my own blog, soon, and I'm gradually collecting these sort of things.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Now, before that, Skeptico was detailing why he thought RevRon's where in error,..."

Actually, the description he offered was "blather," which as far as I can tell, is a dismissive description, rather than an objective observation.

Furthermore, having never even met me, your attempt to neatly categorize me (complete with the name-calling), based upon nothing but your personal take on a brief discussion you were observing, actually reinforces the point I was making above about how some "skeptics" promote the very stereotypes they hope to dispel. Thanks.

Cosmic Connie said...

Berz: Apart from my obvious disagreement with your assessment of Ron's character, I looked up the etymology of the word 'acupuncture' (which is spelled with one 'c') and according to every source I examined, it comes from the Latin "acus," or "needle," and English "puncture." So whether it works or doesn't work, if you stick a needle in someone, it could be called acupuncture.

On the other hand, the word "accurate" comes from Latin "accuratus." "prepared with care, exact," pp. of accurare "take care of," from ad- "to" + curare "take care of."

Frankly, I think everyone was a little snippy from the beginning of this debate, and as I said, I should have either nipped it in the bud or told the debaters to take it elsewhere.

I learn from my mistakes.

Cosmic Connie said...

Berlz, there's one more point (so to speak) that I failed to address in my last post. This is regarding your statement that if Ron and I didn't believe acupuncture was a cure-all, which we don't, we should have said as much at the beginning of the debate.

First off, I thought that the studies Ron cited in support of his views on acupuncture only dealt with the use of the procedure in some types of pain relief and in certain other symptoms (e.g., nausea from chemotherapy). Further, during the entire debate Ron never made a claim that he believed acupuncture can cure cancer or other diseases. Anyone who believed Ron was advocating acupuncture as a cure-all was misreading his statements.

I also think that some the remarks I made on the discussion on my blog (early on in the thread) should have made it clear that I don't advocate acupuncture for everything or even for everyone.

In short, Ron and I didn't issue a formal statement of our beliefs because we thought they were clear enough. Apparently they were not.

JanieBelle said...

Show me the science, baby.

Dat's all I'm gonna say 'bout dat.

Berlzebub said...

RevRon said:

Actually, the description he offered was "blather," which as far as I can tell, is a dismissive description, rather than an objective observation.

Actually, what Skeptico said was:
So far you haven’t presented any science – just blather. and, and he said it after he explained why he didn't buy into acupuncture.

From Merriam-Webster:
Main Entry: 2blather
Function: noun
1 : voluble nonsensical or inconsequential talk or writing
2 : STIR, COMMOTION
[emphasis mine]

And that was in response to your previous comment, RevRon.
Sorry, Skeptico, but your summary dismissal of acupuncture just doesn't wash, unless you believe that ecg's & emg's are prone to exhibit placebo effect. That acupuncture failed your "tests" does not offset the extensive positive data collected at major research hospitals worldwide.

If one is going to fault the New Wagers for sloppy science, it would be advisable to ensure that one's own "science" stands up to scrutiny, IMHO.


Now, I could be interpreting this wrong, but it seems that you are equating the studies that Skep cited with sloppy science. I'm sure, that is what Skep saw. Also, I can't actually speak for Skep, but it would appear that he referred to what you said as "blather" because you didn't cite any studies. In other words, all you had was inconsequential writing without citing anything to back it up. Yes, it was dismissive, but rightly so.

Furthermore, I'm reminded of the old adage, "The squeaky wheel needs the most grease".
Furthermore, having never even met me, your attempt to neatly categorize me (complete with the name-calling), based upon nothing but your personal take on a brief discussion you were observing, actually reinforces the point I was making above about how some "skeptics" promote the very stereotypes they hope to dispel. Thanks.

Isn't this almost exactly what your last blog post was about? You attempted to slam Skeptico on your own blog, without even giving links so anyone else could find out for themselves what you were talking about.

If you explain why you believe you're right it's not "irrefutable rightness" (Third paragraph down on your blog post), it's backing up what you say.

You can say what you want about Skep, or whoever else you seem to believe intellectually arrogant, but he backs up what he says. If you want to keep believing that acupuncture is real, fine. You're free to do that. However, you and me/moi went after Skep, on Connie's blog. Any comments about what you didn't agree with should have been on his blog, in the post associated with it. He'd complimented Connie on her excellent post (and I agree with him), and then me disagreed with him. It began to escalate, with you first insulting his "science" and then getting the "last word" by calling him "close-minded".

By rebutting him on your own blog, not giving any links on where the original comments were made, giving only your side, and not allowing anyone else to comment on it, I stand by my assertion that you are a jackass. At least Skeptico gave everyone the opportunity to "observe" the whole process, and Info has it from start to finish (at least, if it ends here).

-Berlzebub

Berlzebub said...

Connie:

Thanks for correcting me on my spelling. Although, now I've gotta come up with a new dig on acupuncture. Still, in Mandarin it is called zhēn jiu. The bastardized western name does not change what acupuncture asserts to treat. Namely, not just pain, but also more serious ailments. You did say that you didn't buy into the more spiritual aspects, but I never saw where Ron did. What the both of you seem to be referring to is what I've heard called dermipuncture. Basically, acupuncture without the Qi.

FYI, one of the common woo tactics is to get someone to admit that something more minor (such as acupuncture working on pain), is viable. Then, they start in with the "magic" side of it, and use that last admitance as a gap in science.

Anyway, I will keep visiting your blog, periodically. And I look forward to the eventual day when you turn your attentions to The Promise Keepers.

-Berlzebub

RevRon's Rants said...

"Now, I could be interpreting this wrong, but it seems that you are equating the studies that Skep cited with sloppy science."

Actually, I was merely taking exception to the summary dismissal of acupuncture as being of no value, which represents not sloppy science, but incomplete science. And contrary to your previous allegation, disagreement with one's conclusions in no way constitutes an attack on their character. If it did, it would be impossible to have real friends whose ideas did not perfectly mirror your own.

I never claimed, as several have stated, that acupuncture is a cure-all... merely that it does represent an effective treatment in some instances. That claim is supported by the vast majority of studies, as well as my own experience. If all those studies are flawed, perhaps the learned participants of these blogs should endeavor to enlighten the medical community. And be sure to call them jerks, jackasses, fucktards, dicks, idiots, woos, babies, and whatever other descriptive phrases you have in your repertoire. It will definitely serve to enhance your credibility and support your claims.

"Also, I can't actually speak for Skep, but it would appear that he referred to what you said as "blather" because you didn't cite any studies."

As I stated previously, but you obviously overlooked, I was under the impression that I was participating in an informal blog, where casual opinions are exchanged. It was Skeptico who demanded that the dialog be structured according to the guidelines of his own blog. When asked, I did provide links to a few studies which proved the efficacy of acupuncture in some cases.

"Furthermore, I'm reminded of the old adage, "The squeaky wheel needs the most grease".

I have no doubt that the reasoned observer who reads these comments without a specific agenda would note the source of the greatest portion of the squeaking.

"However, you and me/moi went after Skep, on Connie's blog."

Nobody went after Skeptico; we merely disagreed with his blanket assertions. It was he who got so immediately defensive, and felt attacked when faced with a simple disagreement.

"Any comments about what you didn't agree with should have been on his blog, in the post associated with it."

Sorry... I never read the rule stating that it was unacceptable to respond to an opinion posted on Connie's blog. Had you instructed her on the required "rules" for her blog - or been more respectful of the milieu which she chose to establish there - this might never have happened.

"It began to escalate, with you first insulting his "science" and then getting the "last word" by calling him "close-minded".

In a civil dialog, disagreement does not constitute insult. The summary dismissal of another's opinion as "blather" does.

"By rebutting him on your own blog, not giving any links on where the original comments were made, giving only your side, and not allowing anyone else to comment on it, I stand by my assertion that you are a jackass."

A key element here is that my opinion was offered on MY blog, and I made it quite clear that I did not want MY blog to descend into the kind of rancor that so permeated the others. For that reason, I did not publish any of the responses I got, all but one of which were in agreement with my perspective.

I frankly don't care what the subject matter is, if it cannot be discussed in a civil, adult manner, without resorting to name-calling, I feel it a waste of time and energy to participate. I do not expect you to understand - much less share - my desire to maintain a certain level of decorum. Perhaps the need for "pure" dialog precludes such archaic concepts. If so, I gladly acknowledge my lack of desire to engage in "pure" dialog.

I, too, stand by the statements I have made, and will leave it to cooler heads to decide whether or not I - or any other contributor - is a jackass.

Cosmic Connie said...

Actually, Berz, I'm sorry if I sounded like I was trying to be an editor or something. Lord knows (pardon the expression) that I commit my share of misspelling and grammatical glitches on these forums. The only reason I brought up the spelling was that it seemed relevant to the origins of the word, which in turn seemed relevant to one of your arguments.

Even so, it had occurred to me after I wrote the "acu" / "accu" post that maybe you were being facetious all along about that part of your dig at acupuncture, and I just didn't get the joke. Anyway, it's true that "acupuncture" is a bastardized Western word that hasn't been in existence nearly as long as the practice of zhēn jiu.

(BTW -- and this is completely irrelevant to the discussion -- what's the numeric code for "long" and "short" vowels? I can't find it in my Windows character map. I copied and pasted from your message to get the one above.)

Anyway. It is not my place to discuss Ron's spiritual beliefs and how they may or may not relate to acupuncture (or dermapuncture). Ron spent two and a half years in a Buddhist temple and has extensive martial arts training. He also has some medical training and has worked in a research environment so he is pretty familiar with study protocols.

I am neither particularly spiritual nor particularly scientific myself, but I understand the problems inherent in trying to meld the two. Even so, I very much respect Ron's opinions on both scientific/medical and spiritual matters. We don't always agree with each other on these things, and we sometimes have heated debates, but manage to do it without calling each other names.

In short, I was disturbed more by the style than the substance of the recent debate.

Infophile said...

Sorry I haven't responded to the continuing debate sooner, but I've been pretty busy the last couple of days. Anyways...

First of all, I have to say that you make one extremely good point, Connie, about labeling and categorizing people. This is one big issue that I planned to address in "some post, sometime." As soon as we start labeling people, we start making generalizations about them, and this almost inevitably leads to misrepresenting them.

There's also one other thing I'd like to point out, particularly to Berlzebub and Ron. It's what I call the 40% effect. Not too long ago, a study was done where two people were attached to a device that allowed each of them to apply pressure on a finger of the other, and measured the force applied. The experimenter started by applying a small amount of force to one participant's finger, and then asked them to apply that same amount of force to the other's finger. The other participant was then asked to apply as much force as they felt back, and this was repeated.

The result was very revealing: Every time, the participant overestimated the amount of force applied, and thus applied more to the other than they'd received (averaging 40% more force each time). This led to the amount of force steadily escalating. The conclusion of this study was that people overestimate the effect things have on themselves and/or underestimate the effect on others.

Now, extend this to an argument. One person inadvertently says something that causes offense to the other. The second person then feels like the level of the argument has risen, and so they rise in response to it. But they usually ending up overshooting, and so the first person thinks the second person is being unreasonable. They then rise themselves, and overshoot as well. And it just keeps going. You can see how family feuds can start over something petty.

The only way out is to simply realize what's going on. Like a lot of psychological effects, just knowing about it can neutralize it. Even with this, it may seem like you're taking more than you've given (and knowing this effect, you probably are). But if you want to stop it from escalating, you're going to have to accept that. If you even just respond in kind, it will still seem like an escalation to the other person.

I'm bringing this up to help you guys understand why this might have escalated in the first place, and also to help make sure it doesn't happen again. It started out civil in the comments here, let's try to keep it that way.

Skeptico said...

RevRon – you really are the most incredible hypocrite. Of all the people I have debated over the years (and this must run into hundreds), I have never met anyone else who even comes close to you in doing exactly what he is (falsely) accusing his opponent of doing. As an example. just look at this from your comment above:

Re: Actually, I was merely taking exception to the summary dismissal of acupuncture…

A “summary” dismissal? Hardly. I wrote several articles totaling approximately 2,000 words, citing numerous studies. You can disagree with what I wrote if you want, and possibly my conclusions were wrong (I don’t claim infallibility), but you cannot call what I wrote a “summary” dismissal. Your comment however – “Sorry, Skeptico, but your summary dismissal of acupuncture just doesn't wash” – was by definition a summary dismissal of my numerous posts. I don’t know what reality you live in where you can say up is down, black is white, and get away with it, but if you pull that sort of sophistry on me I will call you on it. It’s not my fault if this unaccustomed response (ie asking for evidence), seemed like an insult, or if my questioning your blanket assertions made you feel attacked and made you immediately defensive. But if you get this riled up just because someone calmly points out the flaws in studies you cited (studies, I should point out, you only just found after performing a quick search), perhaps you should restrict your future comments to uncontroversial subjects, and with people you know will agree with you.

Berlzebub said...

Connie:

I frequent skeptical blogs. So, I took no offense at your correction to my spelling. Also, I copy pasted the correct spelling from another site, but couldn't get the u with the upside down carat above it to work correctly, either. I'm just learning to imbed links into text, myself.

Info:

Yes, I have heard of that, but I never studied it. I also noticed the same thing in the exchange. A push, becomes a shove, becomes a punch, becomes a full blown melee.

RevRon:

I apologize for calling you a jackass. That was uncalled for.

-Berlzebub

RevRon's Rants said...

Infophile -
I have to admit that your explanation makes a lot of sense. I did interpret skeptico's initial response as a blanket dismissal of acupuncture as being nothing but a superstition-based practice, with no health-related value, which I (along with a vast body of the medical community) knew not to be the case. Subsequent posts by him and others only served to reinforce my initial perception, and I took offense at what I felt were arrogant (and misguided) assumptions. Perhaps there have been incorrect assumptions regarding attitudes on both sides, a possibility I am willing to accept and attempt to rectify on my own part.

What struck me as most ironic was the willingness of some posters to negatively categorize anyone whose perception of Acupuncture differed from their own as a "woo" (or something much worse), based upon such a minuscule bit of information. It seemed - and still seems - to be completely antithetic to the skeptics' claimed allegiance to objectivity and their commitment to reach conclusions only when presented with conclusive data.

I agree with Connie that the substance of the discussion - the efficacy of a form of treatment - has become secondary to the erosion of civility that has permeated the dialog, a level on which I choose not to engage. The end result will be that either other participants also decide to restore a degree of respect and civility in their discussions, or the discussion will carry on as a denunciation of a "woo" who, having been somehow defeated, chose to retreat.

At this point, it doesn't really matter to me which way it proceeds, but I did want to acknowledge and express my appreciation for your more reasoned contributions, which provided a breath of fresh air in a conversation that had grown pretty stale.

RevRon's Rants said...

Berlzebub-
Apology accepted. Perhaps we'll get to know each other better over time (at which point, you may well choose to withdraw your apology!). I can see how it would be tempting to chime in on the slurs.

Berlzebub said...

When I get a blog, RevRon, I'll be sure to let you know it's location. You may even refer to me by the same name, eventually. ;-)

By the way, I saw (at least part of, I'm so glad I got DVR) a really interesting show on science working to explain the effectiveness of martial arts. They used motion capture and various other technologies to find out what made the strikes so effective. And also to explain some of the legends of the different styles. The ones I remember were Boxing, Muay Thai, Wushu, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, and Ninjutsu. It was really cool, and I hope to finish watching it tonight.

On a side note, having a 3 year old has really dug into my *ahem* educational TV time.

moi said...

I just want to interject a moment here. I was the one who started the argument in the first place, and who was ignored after giviing "anecdotal" evidence about acupuncture. I can understand that skeptico does not take somene like myself seriously, as I am not a scientist and make no claims to be such. BUT, all I said about acupuncture is that it is a good remedy for pain (this claim does have research to back it up). I made absolutely no claims that it can cure other illnesses. Then I noticed that Ryan rockstar posted that we had made that claim (about it curing other illnesses). I felt a little sleighted by this, and his name calling. Seemed he was more interested in pushing his own agenda than having a rational discussion. But blogs are like that. people spout off. Including myself. I refrain from name calling, though, which, imo, is the utmost of immaturity. In any case, I just wanted to post this here since I was referred to above as the one who first went to skeptico's blog, made a comment, and who then was ignored.

berlzebub said...

moi/me (I'm assuming both are you):

I'll admit that things got out of hand. It also seems that you got out of the argument before that really happened. I applaud you for that.

There is some evidence that does work for pain, and there will probably be more research done about that. However, the key thing about the entire argument seemed to be that everyone kept referring to acupuncture (Thanks Connie! :-) ). Acupuncture claims to also cure and aleviate sypmtoms of some ailments. This has not been proven and there is even evidence against.

I believe that what you are referring to is dermipuncture, as I noted above. Which I'm sure that someone will eventually do more research on, but first it needs funding.

Also, one of the big turnoffs for skeptics is referring to conspiracies or what we term "Big Pharma". There is very good money in accupuncture/dermipuncture. Anything that will help aleviate pain can make money. So, that argument doesn't hold. Also, and I know this is anecdotal, I've known some accupuncturists, chiropractors and such. They make very good money. Considering all the test would take is some needles, some time, some volunteers with pain needing treated, and a few people to referee (so to speak) a double-blind test of it's pain relieving properties wouldn't be hard to perform.

If I understand correctly, the Rx companies have to pay for their drugs to be tested. So, acupuncturists would have to do the same.

It might also help to ignore everything about a post but the name calling. Does it hold any facts, or any refutations to what was posited in the first place? If not, it is simply an ad hominem, and can be ignored or pointed out as such.

There's a quote from a movie, that has always stuck in my head. "What if they call my momma a whore?" The main character looks at the questioner and asks, "Is she?" Name calling is mostly just a distraction. If there is nothing else to the comment, other than calling you a name, it's of no use.

You were not ignored. You were refuted. There is a difference.
Skeptico did respond to your comments, but he also refuted what you said.

Unfortunately, the internet takes away some of our communicating ability. Sometimes, even skeptics have a hard time clearly denoting their stance in a few words. However, saying something like "I'm doubtful that it can cure disease, but the possibility that it may work against pain..." would have helped clear up the miscommunication.

As I told Connie before, skeptics are very used to the bait-and-switch. First, they get someone to admit that something works for one thing, and then they say, "Aha!" Next thing you know, they're using that admittance as an argument that it works on something completely different. I can't speak for Skeptico, but this is why some are reluctant to give any ground, until they find out what someone is trying to prove.

-Berlzebub

RevRon's Rants said...

Berlz -

Neither I nor Connie ever stated that acupuncture was some universal panacea, capable of healing a vast array of diseases. That assumption was made by others, completely independent of anything we wrote. My own objection was (and is) to the erroneous assertion that it is a "hoo-doo" practice with no value whatever, and that it has been proven as such by the scientific community.

The choice as to whether or not to believe in qi (or God, for that matter), or to ascribe to it some spiritual or as-yet unmeasured physical qualities is a personal one. Which choice one makes is not sufficient evidence to broadly label them, unless doing so is a significant element in one's own personal agenda.

When self-proclaimed reasoned thinkers make such a leap in logic, they render their entire argument suspect. Adding the dismissive and derogatory tone only serves to further erode their credibility to anyone outside their "choir."

There's a big gray area between the straw man skeptic and the woo. And that's where most people fit.

moi said...

Great post Rev. I totally agree with you about your assessment of chi. It's not something that can be measured easily.

I also wanted to mention to belz that I have a chronic problem in a muscle in my neck and it causes me alot of pain. I have been to regular physicians and they have not been able to figure out what to do. I was given drugs that make me feel bad and sleepy. That's all. Then I was told to go to an acupuncturist by my, ahem, gynocologist. So I went and all they have been able to do is make it go away for a few days, but at least there are no side effects, as there are from pharmaceutical drugs.. I also feel stress reduction from acupuncture, but between acupuncturists and regular doctors, neither of them have been able to find a permanent solution. And I agree that some acupunturists may be in it for the bucks. I hear in China people are able to get treatments every day to cure muscle related problems because it is so affordable. Not so here. the going rate is generally around $60. a session and the prices seem to be going up. It is rare to find licensed acupuncturists who don't charge a lot.