Prof. Disbrow explains how more deniers and charlatans are now being exposed
One of my least-favorite things in the world is pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is, by definition, false science, and it takes lots of forms: homeopathy, astrology, chakras, and many, many more.
We Americans have long struggled with pseudoscience. We are, for example, famously keen to try a fad diet, rather than putting in the hard work required to lose weight.
Unfortunately, our tendency to believe anything we see in print has only gotten worse with the advent of the Internet, and that’s given purveyors of pseudoscience a receptive and profitable audience to peddle their wares. (One of the greatest paradoxes of the Information Age is that we have the knowledge of the world at our fingertips, but almost no tools to tell us which bits are true and which are false.)
In the last few months however, several blows have been struck against some of the worst purveyors of pseudoscience. Even better, these seem to be indicative of an overall change in attitude among Americans: We’re tired of being lied to just so people can make a buck.
The first of these high-profile events was a scathing take-down of the “Food Babe” on Gawker’s website. Written by science blogger Yvette d’Entremont (a chemist and forensic scientist), it was a brutal dissection of “Food Babe” blogger Vani Hari and her increasingly bizarre claims about food and food safety. How brutal? The title of the article was “The ‘Food Babe’ Blogger is Full of Shit,” and it just got harsher from there.
While it’s not uncommon to see a scientist trying to debunk some crazy claim on the Internet, what is uncommon is for that debunking to become a viral sensation. Within hours, the article was spreading like wildfire on social media. Within days it was picked up by more traditional news outlets and d’Entremont had been interviewed multiple times by national media.
Of course, taking down a food blogger might not be considered a very big victory. But right about this same time an even larger purveyor of nonsense was called out and very nearly shut down: Dr. Oz.
Dr. Oz has had his problems for a while now. In June 2014, he testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on consumer protection. During the hearing, more than one senator bluntly accused him of lying to the American public.
Look, if one senator calls you a liar, you might be able to brush that off. Heck, coming from a senator, it might have been intended as a compliment! But if a bunch of them call you a liar, you seriously need to rethink what it is you are doing with your life.
Then, in April of this year, a group of 10 doctors wrote to Columbia University (where Dr. Oz holds a vice chairmanship in the surgery department) urging them to cut ties with Dr. Oz. Quoting from the letter:
“Worst of all, [Dr. Oz] has manifested an egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”
But the worst was yet to come. At the end of April, Oprah, the woman who basically created “Dr. Oz,” announced that his radio show would stop airing on her radio network, cutting off his access to millions of homes.
Another positive trend is the growing backlash against the anti-vaccine movement. While this was brought about partly by the measles outbreak at Disneyland late last year, social media has actually played a big part here. Older people have been sharing stories of what these diseases were actually like, and posting pictures to show just how horrific their effects can be. (Another recent study of 95,000 kids, once again found that there is no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.)
Even President Obama is fed up. During a very funny bit at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last month, he said this about climate change denial:
“I mean, look at what’s happening right now. Every serious scientist says we need to act. The Pentagon says it’s a national security risk. Miami floods on a sunny day, and instead of doing anything about it, we’ve got elected officials throwing snowballs in the Senate!”
While it would be nice if he said this outside the context of a comedy skit, it’s a decent indicator that the tide is turning. Hopefully, this trend will continue and Americans will reject the willful ignorance of the last few decades and return to the scientific and educational excellence we were once known for.