Thursday, May 31, 2007

the voices in my toaster told me to write this

I was reading The Independent on the bus on the way into work this morning, as you do, and I read this article with interest. It was in the "environment" section of the paper, but it's a science-y story. And I thought to myself, Ben Goldacre's going to have a field day with this. And I was, as usual, right. The article reproduces the original text pretty much in full, so skip that bit if you followed the first link.

There's been a lot about this whole "electrosmog" stuff and the symptoms it supposedly causes recently, not least on Panorama a couple of weeks ago, a programme which gets the Goldacre order of the boot here. As he says, the symptoms people describe are no doubt very real and very distressing, but them ascribing a cause to them proves nothing. Furthermore those studies which have been carried out in anything resembling a reputable and scientific way have shown no link between what's loosely termed "radiation" and people's symptoms.

However, if you do come over all peculiar walking past a mobile phone mast or a microwave oven, and you'd feel a bit ridiculous in a tinfoil hat held in place with a couple of crocodile clips, you could always try the Qlink pendant, for a very reasonable 70 quid; note the very decorative but entirely functionless pseudo-printed-circuit thingy on the front. Other snake-oil based products are available here.


The Black Rabbit said...

The manufacturers of these 'things' aren't well aware that there's very little true science behind them then, and they shouldn't actually work? Do you and Mr.Goldacre think that? Or you trying to tell everyone that they're wrong (again)?
If the latter is the case, no-one will listen, mon ami.

Tap into a lucrative, expanding, hysterical market with whatever you like, bad science, whatever.

There will always be people either:

a)gullible enough to fall for the techno-babble
b)responsive (mentally and thus physically) to placebos etc, (not such a terrible thing I suppose)-

to boost your profits, as long as the market, niche or loophole exists.

Please don't tell me now you're concerned about these gullible people knowing the "truth" behind these "snake-oil" artefacts.
Most don't care I'm sure, as long as they feel they experience a benefit.

It matters not to them why they work (either through the power of suggestion or actual science, and lets face it, if there WAS actual science behind them, the average punter wouldn't understand it), it matters not why they shouldn't work.

"Ultimately the truth matters"?
Ultimately, the only truth that matters is one's own, very personal truth.

electrichalibut said...

Horseshit. Objective truth matters. My belief that the earth is flat, however sincerely held, doesn't make it so. Jeffrey Dahmer's belief, sincerely held no doubt, that it was absolutely OK to drill holes in young men's heads while they were still alive, and then sever the heads and keep them in his fridge, taking them out occasionally to have sex with them, doesn't make that a normal or morally acceptable way to behave, however much he might have been conforming to the American psychobabble of "being true to yourself" and "following your dream". He was still a nutcase.

The placebo effect is a well-documented and very real phenomenon, but that is not the issue here. Neither, though it's an interesting point, is the issue of whether or not the sellers of this paraphernalia really believe that it works (I presume not). The thrust of Ben Goldacre's argument, and indeed my own, is that while purveyors of snake oil have no responsibility to the general public (caveat emptor and all that), the media do have a responsibility to report things in a sane and factual manner to at least give people a chance of making an informed choice.

It's very easy to put your hands up and surrender and say "well, it doesn't really matter". It matters. Sit down and have a word with yourself.

electrichalibut said...

PS. gawd bless yer, though. I know you're only doing it to wind me up. It's just too easy....

The Black Rabbit said...

First class, streaky-pants!

Your Jeffery Dahmer example has nowt to do with "truth". Belief is a very different concept when compared with actual, (factual) "truth".

If, then, you'll permit me to follow your lead, oh great master...

your belief that cricket is a wonderful interesting sport to spend hours watching with great glee, doesn't make it so. Or true.
It just makes you a nutter!
A nutter that doesn't go around killing peeps and stuffing your fridge with their genitals, granted.

Now, you and Ben Goldfinger want to make sure, what, the press??!!! report things in a sane, non-biased, factual manner now?! Thank gawd for you. We were all doomed there squire, for a second.

People like you (or me) (or most of the public?) can, and do make informed choices without relying on the press - well you know it, in fact to make an informed choice, might I suggest that the press would be your LAST port of call.

You're avin' a laugh.
Don't kid yourself, or confuse intellectual boasting with helping others less gifted than yourself. Whilst its commendable (even desirable) to be intelligent, your less-gifted brethren will cease to listen if all you do is constantly tell them how wrong and stupid they are.
A huge waste of intelligence indeed.

The press peforming a righteous public service doesn't matter to you, nor do those gullible fools who buy those Qlinks, nor do Jeffery Dahmer's victims.

You and Mr Goldeneye are NOT riding in to society's rescue in your shining suits of armour, on your snorting white steeds, no matter how much you pretend you are.

Ave a word, yersel'.

Go to your happy place now....!
La la la la la la la....!

electrichalibut said...

You had me worried there for a moment. But now I know you're having a Steffi I can sit back a bit and relax.

Anonymous said...

Is this the kind of banter you guys get up to when you go to the pub together?

The Black Rabbit said...

No sis.
Like ALL blokes at the pub, we talk about women, booze, rugby, music, and then just infantile shite really.
No surprise at all.

Anonymous said...

Phew! I woz worried.

electrichalibut said...

"Infantile shite" being a metaphor, of course. We don't actually sit around in the pub talking about baby faeces (or feces, to return to yesterday's American spelling conversation for a moment). Well I don't anyway.

Anonymous said...

My sad life means that I don't do a lot of sitting around in a pub, but I do a lot of talking about baby faeces.

Ho hum.

Please don't feel sorry for me, I'm quite happy really.

The Black Rabbit said...

Contrary to popular opinion, and to 'beef air', I also don't sit around in pubs a lot anymore. (I admit I used to do a spot of that). I don't think the halibut does either!

That said, EVERY time I find mesel' in a boozer, I make sure I ALWAYS spend at least an hour verbally dissecting the subject of baby faeces...
Rude not to.