Confessions of a Quackbuster

This blog deals with healthcare consumer protection, and is therefore about quackery, healthfraud, chiropractic, and other forms of so-Called "Alternative" Medicine (sCAM).

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Reasoning error: that any idea granted a name is 'real'.

From an interesting discussion on the
Healthfraud Discussion List

The unreal idea being discussed is the chiropractic "subluxation
mentioned in this mail:

These "guidelines" suffer from the usual logical flaw: they are
guidelines for a problem (the subluxation complex) which has
never been shown to exist.



Now to the discussion

Subject: Re: [healthfraud] The Chiropractic
Date: Sun, 10 Oct 2004 01:09:06 +0200

----- Original Message -----
From: "Graeme Kennedy"
To: "healthfraud"
Sent: Saturday, October 09, 2004 11:32 PM
Subject: Re: [healthfraud] The Chiropractic

> At 5:52 PM -0500 9/30/04, Eric Bohlman wrote:
>> "The tendency has always been strong to believe that
>> whatever received a name must be an entity or being,
>> having an independent existence of its own. And if no
>> real entity answering to the name could be found, men
>> did not for that reason suppose than none existed, but
>> imagined that it was something peculiarly abstruse and
>> mysterious." -- John Stuart Mill
> Modern philosophy refers to this reasoning error as
> 'reification': that any idea granted a name is 'real'. This is
> the challenge of ontology.
> - graeme
> __________________________________________
> Graeme Kennedy, BA, PhD
> "It is impossible to reason someone out of something that
> he did not reason himself into in the first place." - Jonathan
> Swift
> __________________________________________

Excellent quotes, which strike right at the core of much sCAM(*)
thinking. Here are a few more:

"Everybody is entitled to his own opinions but not his own facts."
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan


"Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. No one is entitled
to their own facts." - James Schlesinger


"The brightest flashes in the world of thought are incomplete
until they have been proven to have their counterparts in the
world of fact." - John Tyndall (1820-1893), physicist


"It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe
anything upon insufficient evidence." - William Kingdon Clifford


"A habit of basing convictions upon evidence, and of giving to
them only that degree of certainty which the evidence warrants,
would, if it became general, cure most of the ills from which this
world is suffering." - Bertrand Russell


"I don't think anyone condemns you or anyone else for
entertaining a notion about a particular cause and effect. What
I and others think is that it's best to concentrate on ideas that
have evidence to back them as opposed to any idea that might
possibly be true. Most wasteful of time and energy is entertaining
ideas that have either weak, circumstantial, or anecdotal evidence
for but have solid evidence *against* them." - Karen Daskawicz


"Entire vocabularies of unintelligible jargon describe kingdoms
of non-existent thought." - Lewis Lapham


"Entire vocabularies of esoteric jargon, based on circular
reasoning and ignorance, have been invented by true believers
to describe their imagined version of reality." - Paul Lee


Commenting on Hulda Clark:

"The author's belief that she has perhaps transcended our current
admittedly basic understanding of humankind's maladies is
unconvincing when the writings show lack of evidence of current
understanding. The best science fiction should stretch, or even
step beyond, current understanding of science." - Dale Rasmussen


"It's not the things we don't know that get us into trouble; it's
the things we do know that ain't so." - Will Rogers


"The plural of anecdote is not data." - Roger Brinner


"It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly
one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit
facts." - Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), "A Scandal In


"Searching for something with preconceived notions would be
better served by first addressing the origin of those notions."
- Charles Morrow


A good definition for alternative medicine:

"A pyramid of speculation built on a mustard seed of fact."


Here is an interesting example of an exchange on the
Healthfraud Discussion List from Jan. 2000:

Deborah said:

". . . Everyone perspective is just as important as another."

And Greg responded:

"Rarely do I see post-modern relativism expressed so precisely . . ."

To which Lauren responded:

"Thank you, Greg. Deborah, this is probably going to offend you,
but that is BS. . . ."

And Ted commented:

"It is incredible to watch everybody argue with someone who
hasn't the slightest clue as to logic, or science. AND, who does
not believe in facts. To her, as to most of the alts, all truth is

To which Paul replied:

"The idea that there are no absolute truths that apply to all people,
or that truth is completely relative ("my idea of truth is just as
valid as yours", "...the truth for me..."), or even worse, that truth
is irrelevant or non-existent, leads to indifference and chaos.

"Deborah seems to represent an exceptional personality type.
(For her own sake, I hope I'm wrong!) I don't usually like the
idea of going after the person instead of the issue, but it is
precisely her attitude that has become the focus of the discussion,
for good reason. Discussing real issues with her, regarding scientific
facts, etc. is wasted time.

"Her attitude is characteristic of many disciples of quackery.
This personality type is hard to reach. Just like trying to get a
smoker with emphysema to quit. It's usually impossible.
Stubborn, hard-headedness sets in.

"Normally the "antibiotic" of knowledge cures the "disease" of
ignorance. If one is afflicted with an "autoimmune" defect, the
knowledge may make things worse. If one is immune to cognitive
dissonance, knowledge is irrelevant. In fact, it's like pouring
gasoline on a bonfire: the quack can spout more facts and seem
more knowledgeable, thus being able to deceive others better
and increasing the amount of self-deception. The following quote
applies to many more than just anti-vaxers."

To quote Peter:

"It goes beyond an immunity to cognitive dissonance. It
incorporates aspects of Orwellian doublethink. CD assumes
that you experience some stress at the conflict between beliefs
and actions, but anti-vaxers seem to be able to hold a number
of conflicting (and often mutually-exclusive) beliefs and be able
to reconcile all of them with action without any compromise.
There is none of the qualification of beliefs that you find in a
true resolution of cognitive dissonance."

And Dick chimed in:

"Paul has brought up a good point but let's leave Deborah
out entirely and discuss it in generalities.

"I have to agree that much of the alt-med issues arise from a
specific personality type. . . One of the key characteristics of
schizotypals is a tremendous affinity for magical thinking and
an attraction for bizarre ideas. Since I am not a mental health
professional let's call these people "magical thinkers" and move
it out of the realm of psychiatry.

"I think most of us have a deep seated desire to form logical
constructs to support our cherished beliefs. When logic fails,
we will for the most part reluctantly part with the beliefs.
Magical thinkers on the other hand cling tenaciously to their
preconceived ideas. They have spent a lifetime concocting
pseudo-logical constructs to support these ideas. To them
these ideas are as clear as night and day the logic is only
constructed to support what is already a truth carved in stone.
Most folks will get embarrassed when their logic fails, magical
thinkers just roll out another load and slap it up to see what

"It may be significant to note that these folks are born not made.
I think most of us know a few magical thinkers. Think back, and
if you are like me, you may have a hard time recalling one of them
ever saying, "Gee, you're right, I never thought of it that way." "

Then I got this "insightful" message off-list from Deborah, which
just confirmed the point of the whole discussion:

"Hi Silly Man, I consider you are brain dead and waste of my
time. you live a dangerous fantasy."

And Richard wrote:

"I immediately dropped my plan to write an article exposing
the foolish idea that is Homeopathy. What is the point? The
world seems to be full of Deborahs."

Later he also wrote:

"I have an article before me from the Houston Chronicle,
Wed, Jan 19, 2000, that I think corresponds with what you
are talking about. It's titled "Clueless wonders, Many
incompetent people fail to recognize own inadequacy". . .

"The title does point out one of the more exasperating features
of these folks and that is the failure to recognize inadequacy.
We have a pot full of health professionals here on the list and
most are cautious about making pronouncements outside their
field of expertise. It's totally amazing that someone with no
training and education can read 5 issues of Prevention and
become a medical expert."


These quotes are from the
Treasure Chest of Quotes & Jokes

(*) sCAM


Other links on this subject:

Chiropractic's Elusive Subluxation

Chiropractic: A Scientific Test of Chiropractic Theory

Manipulation "to correct a subluxation"

Chiropractic: Why It Is Controversial
"Palmer did not employ the term subluxation in its medical sense, but with a metaphysical, pantheistic meaning. He believed that the subluxations interfered with the body's expression, of the "Universal Intelligence" (God), which Palmer dubbed the "Innate Intelligence." (soul, spirit, or spark of life). [9] Palmer's notion of having discovered a way to manipulate metaphysical life force is sometimes referred to as his "biotheology."" -- William T. Jarvis, Ph.D.

D.D. Palmer's Religion of Chiropractic
D.D. Palmer letter, May 4, 1911
"I occupy in chiropractic a similar position as did Mrs. Eddy in Christian Science. Mrs. Eddy claimed to receive her ideas from the other world and so do I. She founded theron a religioin, so may I. I am THE ONLY ONE IN CHIROPRACTIC WHO CAN DO SO." -- D.D. Palmer