Is there any point in fighting health woo?

I’m…at the point I don’t even have the energy to do the research to stay on top of fighting the health woo people are into, like they will say hey I’m going for East Korean style reshii homeopathic colonic inflation and you know what I’m pretty sure that whole thing is bullshit but I don’t even know what that is. I’ve come to the conclusion most people have a magical style of thinking that divides the world into good and evil and some words and things are just good and therefore healthful, I’ve actually heard people describe a style of thought that seems almost like “health morality” where they are being punished for stuff like cancer and doing something like eating Tibetan organic monk cheese counts in their favor in magic health land.

:(What is the point of making people angry and sad, often you uncover someone so far off anything resembling logic or rationality it feels bad to even challenge them on any small thing because you don’t have the ten years it would take to get them looking at things objectively. So yes I do think you should go get organic salt water pumped into your anus to undo those years of drinking and smoking.:smack:

At this point I’d accept the woo vendors sticking to cheapish and safeish stuff.

For me, it kind of depends who it is. I know a stupid girl who is into ALL health woo. I mean, at least be semi-selective and stop making it so obvious that you’re just trying to be different and believe all weird shit. She’s never going to be able to be reasoned with. And then another girl is my friend but annoys the shit out of me with her insistence on believing certain bullshit (anti-vax, for example). Then I realize this is not health, but my best friend who is logical about most things believes in astrology. So does my boyfriend, but he’s not logical about most things (I don’t want to embarrass MYSELF by saying some of his beliefs to you guys who don’t know how appealing he is in other ways).

Okay, actually I guess it doesn’t really depend who it is. I try to reason with people a little but it quickly becomes apparent that it’s a lost cause, so if they annoy me too much I usually find myself not wanting to associate with them very much. I can deal with a quirk or two, but it’s hard for me to have much respect for people who believe too much crazy.

No please, go on…

Oh dear. His mom cured herself of cancer by praying, birth control started being wrong when he started wanting to knock me up, the government is testing out some device to control the weather, he has this thing where he thinks he’s psychic sort of although that’s not the word he uses (it’s about “energy”), God takes some special interest in him because he’s anointed, his ancestry is not African but Hebrew for some reason, EVERYTHING is a mystical sign of something.

Believe it or not, he’s extremely smart and unschizophrenic.

I don’t doubt he’s extremely smart, but smarts don’t immunise you from mental illness. Everything you posted above suggests a wee bit of a disconnect and a bigger chunk of paranoia and delusion. These are not exactly normal thought-processes or reactions.

IANAShrink or any other medical professional, but IMHO, your boyfriend might benefit from an assessment of his mental health.


As a lay person, I’ve been on both sides of this particular fence - not more than spitting distance before anyone starts to back away - and this is the problem I’ve noticed even with my own attitudes. It is far too easy to become self-righteous and absolutist simply because you perceive the “opposition” as having been “wrong” in a handful of instances.

And at least in my case this stemmed mainly from 2 issues. First, I believed everything that I read regardless of the source. Prevention was as authoritative as NEJM (sigh, I know :smack: ). Second, I had no understanding of how clueless we really are as a species - regardless of which side of the fence you happen to be on. Sure the people on the woo leaning side do push the envelope, but modern medicine doesn’t know nearly as much as most people think it does.

I’m not sure if that’s good or bad. I think people need to have a sort of faith in something even if they don’t call it that, so I guess I like that people feel that they can “believe” in their doctor. But when you start acting like the little kid that keeps asking why, you find that you get to the ‘I don’t know’ part faster than you would have imagined.

Also, the woo side of the fence can point to several, not a lot in percentage terms, but several instances where Western medicine has rejected things and had to eat crow - Fish oil, niacin (although we’ve now called backsies on that one, so it doesn’t really count), aspirin (not sure). I know there are others. The fact is that in the past both sides have been overly strident without the data to back them up.

The people on the woo side think that just because we don’t really know how most drugs work that pharmacology really isn’t any better than their magic. Of course they just glide over that whole messy business of the scientific method.

The people on the medical side just dismiss the woo people on principle. Of course they just glide over that whole . . . wait.

Could your boyfriend be a Black Hebrew?

Some of us have a reason that it is our business to protect certain people from harming themselves with woo, or from avoiding treatments of proven benefit because of woo beliefs. And it is often a hard sell. For the rest of us, the issue is why? Why try to convince those who hold these beliefs they are wrong? It’s pretty much akin to arguing with a Birther, or maybe over some divergent religious beliefs. Maybe for the benefit of others if the debate is a public venue, but evidence and the scientific method will hold no sway to the person with the belief.

If it is someone who you otherwise have a fairly unavoidable relationship with … family, employer, etc., then it is usually not to difficult to nip the conversations short just like you might a discussion about religion or politics with someone in those circumstances. If it is a romantic relationship interest, well how much woo can you take hearing about over how many statements of “Let’s just leave it that I am a skeptic.” in the interest of other attractions?

That said it is sometimes interesting to pointedly not challenge and not agree but to instead just ask questions about the belief system.

I don’t bother. I believe every adult has a right to believe or practice anything they wish, with the standard provision about causing harm to others. If you think you need a carrot-juice enema every week to stay healthy, it’s not my place to tell you that you are just wasting perfectly good carrot juice.

I wonder if people who subscribe to magical thinking have better health or happier lives, or just the illusions of health and happiness? Or do they just project a healthy, happy facade to justify their beliefs?

I think the answer to the OP’s question is

A) On an individual level, it’s almost never worth it.

B) In the public space, fight like a lion.

If an individual subscribes to woo your odds of getting them to change are one in a bazillion, and it’ll take more effort than it took to build the Pyramids so why bother? I have friends who subscribe to all manner of health woo, and some of them are otherwise damn smart.

One friend’s going through some health problems. She’s just way beyond rationality right now, to the point that to be honest I am not really all that sure what she is or isn’t sick with; I’m beginning to think she’s an unreliable narrator. She’s got an osteopath AND an acupunturist AND she’s taking homeopathic shit (and she also goes to real doctors; it’s basically her full time job to fight a disease she might or might not have) and she spends much of her free time self-diagnosing on the Internet. “Jane, you need to stop fucking around” is just not a message that is going to sink in; I’ve tried just barely pushing my foot in that door and there’s no way in hell. I’d love to say I can help her but I can’t.

Also, frankly, to a large extent, it isn’t my business. I now know approximately fifty bazillion (well, you know) people who claim to have “celiac.” Of those, precisely two have actually had an honest-to-God physician diagnose them that way, and the others are all self-diagnoses and, I’d guess, 90% of them have nothing of the sort. But you know, if joining the Celiac Club helps them get bread out of their diet is that really a terrible thing? Nah. I’m trying to cut bread out of my diet so I can be in the Club Of People Who Aren’t Grotesquely Fat, and it’s working famously. If their motivation has a silly belief at the heart of it, so what? Unless someone’s eating my housepets their diet is none of my concern.

But by all means fight the good fight in the public space. Do not let the anti-vaxxers have the floor to themselves. While a dedicate wooologist isn’t going to admit defeat mano y mano, people who don’t presently have a fully formed opinion CAN be convinced by reasonable, smart counterarguments to the Jenny McCarthys of the world.

“Is there any point in fighting health woo?”

Here’s a hint. If you use words like “woo” you will lose every time.

With my mum there are a few things that I care about that mean sometimes I do need to challenge the woo:

  1. Her health
  2. Her money (and I need to side with my papa on this one)
  3. My youngest sister, who lives at home

So sometimes we just all have to come down on her and say that no, you may not spend £2000 on powdered root of the ridonculous to help youngest sis lose weight. Losing weight is done by not eating biscuits and by cycling to school, argument over.

I try to ignore her the rest of the time, but it’s difficult. She used to be such an intelligent, no nonsense person. It’s hard to see this person I don’t even know. I feel for my poor papa. Sometimes you think it’ll be fun to bait her a bit, but all the woo is just so totally ridiculous and easily countered it’s not even funny. And it upsets her, because she can’t even remotely defend it, so it just feels to her like her whole family ganging up on her. But aaargh it’s so annoying!

Dunno how you do, it Blackberry. You must have angelic patience.

I dunno, I think most people have far too little faith in modern medicine. Everyone knows someone who can’t be cured of something, which to far too many people disproves all scientific knowledge, ever. And besides, “knowing” is often only half the point: more important is having studies showing it to be effective. Which, by definition, woo does not have.

Personally I rather like oscillating between “OMG modern medicine is amazing” and “OMG we know nothing”.

Depends who they are and who they are (potentially) hurting.

If it’s a close relative or friend, I’m going to do my best to convince them otherwise, but ultimately if I fail I will leave them to their quackery.

If it’s not a relative or friend and they’re only hurting themselves or other consenting adults, fuck 'em, they can do whatever they want.

If they are potentially hurting their children or the general populace i.e. the antivax set, I will take their fucking heads off every chance I get.

A good friend of mine, a neonatologist, once made a very cogent observation:

Just a century ago medicine could actually cure and effectively treat very little. Penicillin had yet to be discovered. Nor insulin. Aspirin was pretty new. Pretty much doctors sat with people, hopefully did little harm, talked, nothing else to do … and were highly respected.

Medicine now can actually cure and effectively treat a great deal. We can even prevent a lot. But doctors spend much less time sitting and just talking … and they are respected a lot less.

I think that also informs to the popularity of woo.

Hell yeah he could, but there’s not a lot you can really do about narcissism anyway, which is where most of it stems from.

I can never even tell if that’s a real thing. In most cases including his, it looks like they just want to believe they’re God’s chosen people. I wonder if they’re all so insufferable about it.

Haha. I’m like the least patient person ever, but the line between totally nuts and thought-provoking insight is very blurry with him and he is really interesting to talk to most of the time (not when he gets on one of his speeches where you can’t even get a word in, that’s boring and annoying as hell). He’s so cute and funny that people tolerate all kinds of things from him that they wouldn’t from most people, unfortunately.

Speaking only for myself, of course, when I argue woo or creationism or bad science in general on the internet, I do it not with the intention of changing the mind of the person with whom I am arguing. I pretty much assume they’re a lost cause already. My goal is to make sure that at least some of the bad information out there is found right next to some good information explaining why it’s wrong. My intended audience is the naive kid who found the thread by googling for homework, or whatever. Good information to fight the bad.

It’s very different dealing with people in real life. I’ve never really had to deal with that with anyone I was close enough to that I couldn’t just ignore.