Why I post on critical thinking – Tim Minchin’s “Storm”

The animated film for Tim Minchin’s beat poem, “Storm”, was released today, and is making the round of skeptical websites.  It should be – it’s a brilliant work, lauding science over alternative crap.  It also speaks to my feelings when I encounter people who blather about “other ways of knowing” – the frustration I feel and push down because, no matter how gently I try to point people to facts, I am seen as attacking.

Minchin speaks of it early on in “Storm” – how, when faced with a particularly noxious pontification, he says nothing because he doesn’t want to ruin a lovely dinner party.  But the young lady who is pontificating doesn’t think of that at all. She’s not aware of the tension building in the room, of how she’s ruining the party. She doesn’t consider her words or the effect they may have on others because she feels she’s right. She knows, without any evidence except her own “common sense”.

Every day I read dozens of stories about anti-vaxxers, psychics “talking to the dead”, female circumcision, albinos hunted for body parts, kids dying because their parents think prayer is enough to cure them, exorcisms, people trying to force creationism into schools, people who think it’s appropriate to dictate to others that they shouldn’t love or get married because they love the wrong gender, race or religion. And sometimes, like Minchin, I get frustrated.

But I don’t get in someone’s face and throw off a couple of f-bombs (as much as I am sorely tempted).  What I generally do is post an article on Facebook that’s been the one to send me over the edge. Sometimes I’ll have a comment, sometimes I won’t.

Here’s the important part, though: It doesn’t matter. Even if I am not confrontational, it is still seen as an attack. Whenever I post something like that, I can count on someone I’ve known for decades de-friending me without comment.

Some think that because I am a skeptic and an atheist I have no feelings, no morals. That I don’t care about my friends. It’s precisely because I care about them that I want them to revel in reality. To take advantage of science, which has given them longer life and wonderful gadgets to help them enjoy it.  To not deliberately close their eyes to this world, both triumphs and tragedies.

So I will continue to post about these things that matter.  Unfortunately, there will be some who really need to hear this message that will close their eyes and ears and sing “lalala”, who will de-friend me rather than hear the slightest criticism. I just wish they could hear Minchin when he says:

“Isn’t this enough?
Just this world?
Just this beautiful, complex, wonderfully unfathomable natural world?”

Please watch and enjoy:

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Nutritional and Dietary Supplements

As I’ve said, I’ll be occasionally posting on issues related to critical thinking. That covers a whole lotta ground. Readers will find that one of the areas that most interest/infuriate me is “alternative medicine”. Although I have no medical training, I can find my way around a medical article, as long as they have some grounding in the scientific method. That’s why one of my favorite blogs is “Science-Based Medicine”, by a collective of doctors and pharmacists who advocate for medicine that is both effective and safe – as shown by properly-executed scientific trials.

Today’s article is by Dr. Harriet Hall and is on nutritional and dietary supplements, and how these unregulated substances can not be shown to be either effective or safe. Some of them may be, but how can we know that if they haven’t been properly tested? The US law that removes the requirement for regulation from these supplements is the DSHEA (1994 Diet Supplement Health and Education Act). It’s an anti-consumer act that I would guess very few of the people who spend billions on supplements each year know anything about.

The article is very clear and concise on the dangers of supplements, and I can’t recommend it enough. One thing I find curious is an attitude that I see in one of the comments. A commenter seems to say that he wants the ability to be a guinea pig for untested supplements. He tried a number of them and something in them seemed to work, so therefore supplements are OK while real medicine, tested for effectiveness, is not.

I  do not want to be a guinea pig. I don’t want my loved ones to be guinea pigs. I want to know that anything I take for a condition has been proven to be effective for a certain percentage of people at a certain dosage, and that a smaller percentage of people have identified side effects. How this commenter could read the stories Dr. Hall and other commenters have provided of kidney failure, uterine cancer, liver damage, and high levels of arsenic and lead in unregulated supplements and consider those as acceptable risks is beyond me. It’s a way of thinking that is as foreign to me as a person that wears tinfoil hats to block alien mind-rays.