Monday, December 14, 2015

They're Still Out There!

Following up on last week’s discussion of fraudsters and sham artists as well as legitimate businesses trying to influence you into buying a product you may or may not need, here is some more interesting information to think about.  The first two are intentional, admitted frauds to test how gullible people can be.  The last presents a healing technique where the inventor seems to be sincere, but…

The Huffington Post reports on research based on a website called “New Age Bullshit Generator” that randomly creates phony, spiritual sayings as a kind of joke.  One Canadian PhD Candidate developed a study to test people’s ability to distinguish between a random collection of buzzwords and pithy declarations of wisdom that have become the New Age fad, often seen on social media as block lettering with a rectangular background.  He found a high correlation in profundity ratings, that is, people had a hard time telling the difference between the two, and he concludes:  with the rise of communication technology, people are likely encountering more bullshit in their everyday lives than ever before, and tells the Huffington Post they should be more skeptical about the bullshit that we presented to them.

The second is from a Time article several years ago about a study of a new form of reflexology.  (Reflexology is related to acupuncture and involves the application of pressure to specific points on the feet, hands, or ears that are believed to correspond to different body organs and systems.  By pressing them the patient receives a beneficial effect on those organs.)  This researcher produced a paper claiming he had discovered similar areas located over the area of the buttocks and sent an abstract to the International Conference on Integrative Medicine.  After they reviewed it, he was invited to the conference to present his findings.  This was a complete hoax.  When sending the abstract he stated that “he would present only case histories, testimonies, and positive outcomes, since his methods did not lend themselves to randomized controlled trials; and he suggested that his ‘novel paradigm’ might lead to automatic rejection by closed minds.”  No one wants to be accused of being closed-minded. 

Finally, a local news report from Massachusetts about a “unique healing system” called Tong Ren.  They tap with a small hammer on a doll marked with energy points.  The idea is that by tapping as a group on a specific point on their individual dolls, they can tap into the collective unconscious and send healing power to an individual.  (I guess they take turns sending healing power to each other.)  Apparently this tapping clears some energy points and is capable of curing almost any disease.  Several people in the interviews are very positive about their results, but these are only testimonials.  There is nothing scientific about testimonials, and it hasn’t worked for everyone.  The session shown is free, but they do accept donations.  There is no indication what the charge is for a regular session.

So we have people who cannot distinguish between spiritual sayings of some modern guru and computer-generated buzzwords, a conference committee who will invite a presentation where the author admits having no scientific evidence and in reality made the whole thing up, and a kind of cross between voodoo and acupuncture to cure every known disease.  The big question is:  does it make a difference if someone is sincere or not, or is bullshit just bullshit?  Our only defense is critical thinking.

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