HuffPost pushes erotic astrology

March 22, 2019 • 8:40 am

What is it with the Leftist media now? The other day Greg pointed out how the New York Times is growing soft on astrology (see here and here), dramatically increasing the number of columns it’s published on the topic, with almost all of those columns being either neutral or slightly positive.

Now HuffPost has this (click on screenshot to read the nonsense). It’s written by the site’s romance, sex, and relationship columnist.

Oy!  Some excerpts:

“Although we may no longer treat illness through medical astrology, it provides invaluable insight into each of the 12 zodiac signs’ physicality ― and yep, how they like to get down,” Kelly said.

For the fun of it, we spoke to Kelly [“Aliza Kelly, Allure’s resident astrologer and the host of the podcast Stars Like Us.”] and fellow astrologer Lisa Stardust to find out more about each sign’s supposed erogenous zone. Read on to see if yours matches your turn-ons.

[Note: Always ask your partner where they like to be touched before making assumptions about their preferences based on internet listicles!]

I love the Woke admonition to always get affirmative consent before using astrology!

Here’s my “sign zones”, which isn’t accurate at all:

It turns out that HuffPost has a daily astrology column and a lot of articles about how to shop/behave/have sex/etc. based on your zodiac sign:

Head here for more astrology content and here to read your daily horoscope.

I am curious whether a weakness for astrology is part of the Woke Left’s playbook, or if it spans Right and Left. I don’t much care: astrology is not just nonsense, but marginally harmful nonsense, and there’s no caveat in this article that this is mere fantasy.

Ceiling Cat help me, I couldn’t resist leaving a comment based on the article’s subtitle. You can too!

The New York Times has an ongoing soft spot for astrology, but not everyone there has drunk the Kool-Aid

March 21, 2019 • 10:00 am

by Greg Mayer

After Jerry posted about the recent New York Times piece touting astrology and its harmlessness, I came across some good news, and some bad news. First, the good news: some of the Times‘ writers continue to be able to exercise their critical faculties. In a piece, “#MAGA Church“,  about a loony, apocalyptic church in New Jersey, Sam Kestenbaum writes the following about its pastor, Jonathan Cahn:

He devoured the writings of Nostradamus, the Virginia psychic Edgar Cayce and far-out conspiracy theories about ancient astronauts. Mr. Cahn soon stumbled on “The Late Great Planet Earth,” the 1970s best-seller that argued doomsday prophecies of the Bible were playing out with events like the Cold War and Israel’s Six-Day War. Mr. Cahn bought the book thinking it was about UFOs; instead he was given a crash-course in Christian eschatology.

It’s a longish piece, and you should take a look at the whole thing. It’s a great example of how fascination with woo, and the inability to reason about it, can lead further and further down the epistemological rabbit hole. If the only harm that comes of this is one person’s derangement, it’s harm enough, but this church is leading a whole flock of people– and their money– into a warren of woo, not to mention what those people might do.

The bad news is that the piece critiqued by Jerry is not a one off. I did a search at the Times’ website for “astrology”, and the results were intriguing, verging on appalling. The first 9 results were all supportive of astrology; and all had appeared since since July 2017. Many treated astrology as a “he said, she said” affair, which is bad enough, but often the astrology critic was a token. If a respected news outlet treated climate change, evolution, or gravity this way, we’d all be rightly outraged. (This search did not catch the latest astrology article on which Jerry posted; I’m not sure why.) The 10th astrology result was from 2011, an article about a race horse named Astrology.

The astrology articles are in a number of sections: “New York”, “Asia Pacific”, “Style” (2), “Arts” (2), “Sunday Review”, and (!!!!) “The Learning Network” (2). They are all by different authors, except for two by Amanda Hess. One of Hess’s pieces is not so bad, but in the other she suggests “online mysticism is filling a legitimate need”, and favorably compares the amount of “woo-woo crazy” in Goop vagina jade eggs to flat Earthism! She’s a little concerned that people are making money off of all this, but concludes that “retreating into the mystical internet feels like a quite rational move”. The diversity of authors and sections suggest there is not a particular editor who has a thing for astrology; rather, impairment of the critical faculties has seeped through many parts of the paper. The author of another Times article, not picked up in the “top 10” of the search, suggests that some people believe that criticism of astrology is misogynistic. (I hasten to add that there is no indication that the author of this piece concurs– she is reporting, not advocating.) But the Times is not merely avoiding criticism of astrology (perhaps to ward off the woke); it keeps bringing it up when there’s no evident impetus to do so.

I also noted that all 5 “NYT Picks” of readers’ comments on the piece critiqued by Jerry are pro-astrology. Here’s a sample of what the Times‘ editors found worth reading:

As to Mercury, when it is out of phase, being a Gemini whose ruling planet happens to be Mercury, it helps for whatever it’s worth to be aware when it comes and goes.

Yeah. Whatever it’s worth. My critical comment, to the effect, “Why did you publish this?” did not make it past the Times‘ moderators. I’m not sure why, as many commenters (including some WEIT readers, alerted no doubt by Jerry’s post!) said much the same thing.

The Times is clearly not all bad, and remains an essential news source, but I’ve been wondering lately if I should at least try out a subscription to the Washington Post to see how it’s doing.

(Links to the top ten search results, in order of their listing, are below the fold.)

Continue reading “The New York Times has an ongoing soft spot for astrology, but not everyone there has drunk the Kool-Aid”

Gwyneth Paltrow’s medical woo gets demolished

July 17, 2017 • 9:00 am

Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop site (“Elevated Essentials for Life”) has been promoting pseudoscience and quack remedies for years, but somehow she manages to shake off criticism, like Trump or Deepak Chopra. Most notorious was her $66 “jade vagina egg“, which, inserted into that orifice, was claimed to do these things:

  • harnesses the power of energy work, crystal healing, and a Kegel-like physical practice
  • cleanses, clears, and detoxifies the vagina
  • removes negativity
  • increases chi, orgasms, vaginal muscle tone, hormonal balance, and feminine energy.

Did I mention that you could “recharge” the egg by putting it in the light of a full moon?

Despite the weaselly disclaimer, these benefits were touted not by a doctor, but by a quack named Shiva Rose. A real doctor, a gynecologist named Jen Gunter, took apart these claims, pointing out not only that the egg had no vaginal benefits, but could, by carrying bacteria in its pores, cause infection. And yet the egg is still on sale.

Over the years, goop has offered a number of bogus products and health advice, including taking megavitamins (useless), steaming your vagina (useless and dangerous), detox regimens (useless), crystal healing (ditt0), and skin stickers purported to recharge and heal your body by being programmed with different “frequencies” (useless and expensive).

The stickers, I think, were the last straw. They were touted as incorporating material used by NASA, but NASA denied it, and one ex-NASA official said they were “bullshit.”  Although Paltrow has made millions from this quackery, the pushback from the vagina eggs and quack stickers clearly stung her, and her reputation was at stake. She had to do something.

What she did last week was to have her team write a defense of her practices, and enlist two of her advising doctors to tout their credentials and justify their woo, It’s all on view on the goop site: “Uncensored: A Word from our Doctors.” But the goop commentary does not go well, not only questioning the motivations of her critics but also arguing that criticism of her woo is dangerous (my emphasis):

As goop has grown, so has the attention we receive. We consistently find ourselves to be of interest to many—and for that, we are grateful—but we also find that there are third parties who critique goop to leverage that interest and bring attention to themselves. Encouraging discussion of new ideas is certainly one of our goals, but indiscriminate attacks that question the motivation and integrity of the doctors who contribute to the site is not. This is the first in a series of posts revisiting these topics and offering our contributing M.D.’s a chance to articulate theirs, in a respectful and substantive manner.

We always welcome conversation. That’s at the core of what we’re trying to do. What we don’t welcome is the idea that questions are not okay. Being dismissive—of discourse, of questions from patients, of practices that women might find empowering or healing, of daring to poke at a long-held belief—seems like the most dangerous practice of all. Where would we be if we all still believed in female hysteria instead of orgasm equality? That smoking didn’t cause lung cancer? If every nutritionist today saw the original food pyramid as gospel?

. . . Asking questions is the job of all of us; it is also the job of the doctors and scientists who collectively move our health forward. There is much that we do not know. It is unfortunate that there are some who seem to believe that they already know it all, who pre-judge information before they’ve even taken the time to read or understand it, who believe that there is actually nothing left to learn, who believe that they, singularly, own the truth. That is troubling, and that is dangerous.

I’d enact the onerous emotional labor of going after this stuff , but fortunately, ArsTechnica has done it all, saving me the trouble. Read Beth Mole’s piece, “Defense of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Good offers case study on how to sell snake oil.“, which goes after goop‘s defense, though not the doctors’. It details eight rhetorical tactics the site uses to defend its woo, as well as detailing a number of goop products that make bogus medical claims. Somehow I’d missed this product, which offers semiprecious pebbles that would cost you about $10 at a rock store:

With these claims!:

For a critique of the two goop doctors themselves, there’s no better place to go than surgeon Orac’s new post at ScienceBlogs, “Gwyneth Paltrow’s quack empire goop strikes back against Dr. Jen Gunther.” Here’s a sample from Orac:

Of course, Dr. Gundry will have none of it. He has a peculiar level of tunnel vision. He paints himself as a science-based doctor at the very highest level of his profession. Arguably, he was, at least until 15 years ago, when, as he brags, he resigned a “Professor and Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at a major medical school to devote myself to reversing disease with food and nutraceutical supplementation, instead of bypasses, stents, or medications, just like Hippocrates asked you and me to do when we took our oath: ‘Let food be thy medicine.’ And he works so, so hard at it. So hard. So very hard that he has to brag:

“And finally, he taught that a physician’s job was to search out and remove the obstacles that are keeping the patient from healing themselves. For the last fifteen years, I’ve been doing just that seven days a week (yes, you read that right, Saturday and Sunday as well, just ask my overworked staff).”

Poor baby. Such dedication. And, he assures us, even though he has concierge patients, he also takes Medicare and Medicaid! He’s also a condescending dude as well [example follows]. . .

I know that people follow celebrities’ fashion and tastes, hoping that some of the stardom rubs off on them, but it’s beyond me why someone would take medical advice from Gwyneth Paltrow over that of their doctor. For crying out loud, you could at least call your gynecologist before you stick a jade egg in your vagina!

And I’m equally puzzled why the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t crack down on specious health claims, and make sure that any disclaimers are BIG and BOLD—or better yet deep-six those claims altogether. After all, the FTC recently required homeopathic “remedies” to have scientific evidence backing their health claims, and if not they simply couldn’t make such claims. Why isn’t goop subject to the same regulations?

Damn—missed it again!

February 12, 2016 • 10:00 am

Sadly, I didn’t become the first two-time recipient of the Discovery Institute’s (DI’s) “Censor of the Year Award.” That’s the bad news. The good news is that the recipient was a religious organization: the United Methodist Church. Why on earth did a church get it. Well, as the DI announced a while back, the Methodists decided not to allow a Discovery Institute table at its General Conference. As the Methodists themselves noted, promotion of ID didn’t comport with their social principles:

After the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 struck down creation science in public schools as unconstitutional, intelligent design gained popularity as an alternative to the study of conventional evolutionary biology. The Discovery Institute, a public policy think tank founded in 1991, explicitly seeks to champion intelligent design in academia.

However, according to its Social Principles, The United Methodist Church does not see conflict between faith in God and the study of biological evolution.

“We find that science’s descriptions of cosmological, geological, and biological evolution are not in conflict with theology,” the Social Principle on “Science and Technology” says.

General Conference in 2008 approved a resolution “opposing the introduction of any faith-based theories such as Creationism or Intelligent Design into the science curriculum of our public schools.” The commission cited the resolution specifically in declining the Discovery Institute’s exhibit application.

The Methodists also cited the Dover case as showing that, as ruled by Judge John Jones III, ID isn’t science:

Jory Weintraub, an immunologist who teaches with the Duke Initiative for Science and Society at United Methodist-related Duke University, said the overwhelming majority of the scientific community agrees with the judge’s assessment.

Because intelligent design starts with belief in a designer, who as Jesus said should not be put to the test, it doesn’t offer testable hypotheses the way evolutionary biology does.

Well, even the DI notes that ID does offer testable hypotheses, so the Methodists are off the mark here. However, lest the DI take this out of context, all their testable hypotheses have failed. We have plausible precursors for the adaptations that the IDers claim could never have evolved in a stepwise fashion, and the supposed fossil evidence against Darwinian evolution has been attacked and refuted by real paleontologists (see here).

The DI, of course, which has no positive scientific program of its own, offering only lame and incorrect criticisms of real science, is into big-time whining, and so urges its acolytes to contact the Methodist Church:

Is human life just flotsam cast up by a mindless material process? That, the picture of what man is, constitutes the ultimate question posed by the study of evolution. Without regard for what is merely politically correct, Americans want to know what science has to say about biological origins.

The “leadership” of the UMC Commission, isolated from mainstream opinion, is thus this year’s COTY. They deserve it, whoever they are. The award is an occasion for sensible members of that church, and other thoughtful people of any religious persuasion or none, to rise up in protest. We have already offered an easy way of taking action. If you haven’t already, please spare a moment and do so.

The DI casts this as a free-speech issue. But if the Methodists’ position is that the Church must be accept science as it comes from scientists, then the DI has no right to promulgate its falsified “science” at a Church conference. That would be equivalent to allowing tables on homeopathy, ESP, and flat-earth “theory” at their meeting.

Now I could criticize the Church’s argument that there’s no conflict between science and faith, and I have, but I have a book on that, so I’ll leave it be. But it’s telling that the Discovery Institute, but no real scientific organization, whines continuously about being suppressed and censored. That’s also a hallmark of pseudoscientists like Deepak Chopra and Rupert Sheldrake. Have the woolheads at the DI ever noticed that similarity?

Stephen Law recommends five books on pseudoscience

March 18, 2015 • 2:34 pm

Most of you have probably heard of Stephen Law, a philosopher at the University of London and provost of the Center for Inquiry UK (he’s also an atheist).  At the Five Books site, which I keep recommending as a great way to find what to read in an area you’re curious about, Nigel Warburton has just done an interview with Law , who recommends five books for learning about (and debunking) pseudoscience.  I’ll leave you to read what he says, but I’ll list the books here (and their US Amazon links) for your convenience. And I’ll append or or two statements from the interview.

Les livres:

God’s Perfect Child: Living and Dying in the Christian Science Church by Caroline Fraser (about the failure of Christian Science healing). I’ve read this book and it’s terrific.

UFOs: The Public Deceived by Philip J. Klass.

Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial by Simon Singh and Edzard Ernst. I want to read this book.

Intellectual Impostures by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont. I’ve read this book, and also recommend it. It’s a great takedown of postmodern nonsense.

How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a Critical Age by Theodore Schick. I haven’t read this book.

Weigh in below with your thoughts on any of these you’ve read. I’ll finish with a definition and an opinion by Law.

We’re going to be looking at your choice of books about pseudoscience, but before we go into the books themselves, could you explain what pseudoscience is?

Pseudoscience is a practice in which people convince themselves that what they’re doing is science – that it meets scientific standards – but, on closer examination, it turns out that they’re merely aping the methods of science. It’s a kind of fake science. I’m particularly interested in pseudoscience and other dodgy systems of belief. Our cultural landscape contains many belief systems which are intellectual black holes: as you approach them you find yourself getting drawn in. Eventually you pass the event horizon, and there is no escape, or at least it can be extremely difficult to think your way out again. The people that are trapped inside these belief systems are often intelligent, well-educated people. They really believe that what they believe is rational and reasonable and perhaps even scientifically credible. But the truth is that they are duping themselves. I’ve selected some books which illustrate this tendency of human beings to get sucked into these intellectual prisons, often never to escape.

And Law apparently lumps religion in which pseudoscience, which is fine so long as we’re talking about truth claims of religion that could, in principle, be tested empirically:

What I object to is the way in which some appeal to mystery in order to try and get themselves out of trouble, in order to deflect attention away from the fact that there’s no real evidence to suggest that what they’re saying is true (and perhaps even evidence contradicts what they claim). It’s important to me that if somebody claims that they have some kind of medicine that works for a particular illness, for example, that they can show that the medicine really works. I don’t think that anyone should be making those kind of claims, and in particular making money from those kind of claims, unless they can demonstrate that what they claim is, or is very probably, true. It’s particularly important that we all have some immunity to the kind of bullshit that surrounds us in our everyday lives. When I walk down the high street where I live, I find people promoting all sorts of strange and peculiar beliefs, religious beliefs, alternative medicines, and so on. Many of these people are fairly harmless, but not all of them. Some of them want to lure me and my children into belief systems that are potentially exploitative, and perhaps even dangerous. We all need some immunity to bullshit. We need to make sure that our critical faculties are engaged. We need to be sure that a little red light will come on in our heads as we begin to approach one of these intellectual black holes, so that we don’t fall victim.

Woo, quackery and pseudoscience, oh my…

December 20, 2014 • 12:10 pm

by Grania

This is a poster from 2012 that is doing the rounds on Facebook again, and I hadn’t seen it before so I am glad it’s resurfaced.

It has several familiar faces, who sadly still ply their trade in bamboozling the credulous and the desperate for profit and fame, although Burzynski’s career is is perhaps under threat at last. Maybe.

Click through here to see the original.
by Maki

The last panel gives a perfect opportunity to repost Tim Minchin’s funny and clever beat-poem, Storm.

although, I prefer the original version here.

It’s also a good time to give a shout out to the people at Sense About Science who have created an online resource about various claims and whether they stand up to scientific inquiry.

Pigliucci and Boudry rebuke alternative medicine, praise science, in New York Times

October 11, 2013 • 9:06 am

by Greg Mayer

A little over a week ago Jerry noted a puzzling piece on the New York Times website by Stephen Asma that praised the theory of “Qi” and drinking turtle blood as interesting and worthwhile concepts. Jerry had a go at some of Asma’s confusions, and now in the Times Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry have their turn at bat, with Asma being the ball.

In their piece, called “The Dangers of Pseudoscience”, Pigliucci and Boudry note why it is useful to distinguish between science and pseudoscience, and emphasize especially the importance of doing so with regard to medical claims.

Asma’s example of Chinese medicine’s claims about the existence of “Qi” energy, channeled through the human body by way of “meridians,” though, is a different matter [than aspirin]. This sounds scientific, because it uses arcane jargon that gives the impression of articulating explanatory principles. But there is no way to test the existence of Qi and associated meridians, or to establish a viable research program based on those concepts, for the simple reason that talk of Qi and meridians only looks substantive, but it isn’t even in the ballpark of an empirically verifiable theory.

They stress the importance of understanding the underlying causes of phenomena (e.g. the placebo effect), rather than applying fanciful words to the phenomena. They appropriately note that, “The notion of Qi, again, is not really a theory in any meaningful sense of the word. It is just an evocative word to label a mysterious force of which we do not know and we are not told how to find out anything at all.”  They rightfully conclude

The borderlines between genuine science and pseudoscience may be fuzzy, but this should be even more of a call for careful distinctions, based on systematic facts and sound reasoning. To try a modicum of turtle blood here and a little aspirin there is not the hallmark of wisdom and even-mindedness. It is a dangerous gateway to superstition and irrationality.

The perils of “balanced” reporting

May 2, 2013 • 7:06 pm

by Greg Mayer

Curtis Brainard, editor of The Observatory, the Columbia Journalism Review‘s online science journalism section, has a nice article up tracing the role of the news media in encouraging and spreading anti-vaccination pseudoscience, including the role of the disgraced British physician Andrew Wakefield, and the fear mongering of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. (The latter once wrote a piece for Salon, which Salon later deleted, in doing so decrying the fraud tainted “science” of those propagating ” the debunked, and dangerous, autism-vaccine link.”) He discusses the differing reactions and developments in the UK and the US, including how  anti-vaccine pseudoscience developed later in the US, and how some journalists built their careers around promoting pseudoscience.

One thing he notes is that “balanced” reporting seems to have helped encourage the spread of the bogus claims:

[T]he study [of journalistic coverage] raises the problem of “objectivity” in stories for which a preponderance of evidence is on one side of a “debate.” In such cases, “balanced” coverage can be irresponsible, because it suggests a controversy where none really exists. (Think climate change, and how such he-said-she-said coverage helped sustain the illusion of a genuine debate within the science community.)

Although Brainard did not mention it, I’m sure that WEIT readers will immediately see the parallels to coverage of creationism and “teach the controversy” campaigns. I once parodied such he said-she said coverage here at WEIT:

You’ve all read the kind of story that will have a line like, “Dr. Smith, a paleontologist at the natural history museum, said Triceratops had been extinct for more than 60 million years before the origin of man, while Dr. Jones from the institute said Triceratops had been ridden by men like horses until the recent worldwide flood drowned them all”.

I’m glad to see that media critics like Brainard are critiquing this type of reporting, and that many journalists are becoming aware of the dangers of “balance” when one side has nothing at all. Other previous posts on vaccines at WEIT here and here. For regular coverage of medical pseudoscience, see Orac’s Respectful Insolence, and Ben Goldacres’s Bad Science.

h/t Andrew Sullivan

TED revokes license for TEDx West Hollywood event!

March 30, 2013 • 12:26 pm

Oh boy, get ready for an explosion of wrath from Sheldrake-ians, woomeisters, and other pseudoscience boosters who are ready at a moment’s notice to cry “censorship.” My inbox is yearning for the hate mail!

Alert reader Jay just informed me that TED has revoked the license for the entire upcoming TEDx West Hollywood event, that is, the execrable parade of self-help and numinosity called “Brother can you spare a paradigm?” (See my posts on it here, here, and here.)

The official notice is on this site, and is announced as follows (note the new name and plea for dosh):ExTEDAn angry pro-PSI blog has published excerpts of an email from a representative of TED to organizer Suzanne Taylor, explaining their decision (Taylor’s credentials included making a video about how aliens produce crop circles):

…) And when we look at your speaker line-up, we see several people who promote — as fact — theories that are well outside what most scientists would accept as credible. We’re not saying all the speakers are off-base. Perhaps you could make a case for each of them individually. But when we look at the program as a whole, it’s clear that it doesn’t meet our guidelines.The problem is not the challenging of orthodox views. We believe in that. We’ve had numerous talks which do that. But we have rules about the presentation of science on the TEDx stage. We disallow speakers who use the language of science to claim they have proven the truth of ideas that are speculative and which have failed to gain significant scientific acceptance.

More than 2000 TEDx events will take place in the year ahead.  If your program is allowed to proceed, it will truly damage other TEDx organizers’ ability to recruit scientists and other speakers. (Indeed many in the TED and TEDx communities have already reached out to us to express their concern.)

We have reluctantly concluded that your program is not appropriate for TEDx, and we have to therefore terminate your license. You are of course welcome to still hold an event with these speakers. You just can’t associate it with TEDx. We are happy to work with you to figure out how to smoothly transition it into an event under a different name.  I’ll be happy to speak with you directly to facilitate this.

This is a nice victory for rationalism, and big plaudits go to TED and TEDx for making this decision. They’re gonna catch a lot of flak for this, and many accusations of “censorship”, but what they did was to stand up for science.

And don’t forget to keep an eye open for TEDx events in your area (there are hundreds worldwide), and report it to the TEDx organizers (and me) if you see anything really wonky, including pseudoscience or antiscience.