Archive for June, 2010

The Frustrations of Skeptical Blogging

I never wanted to be one of those people who started a blog only to abandon it when I got bored, but here I am just over a year into my blogging and I haven’t posted or responded to any comments in a couple of weeks. I have been reading the comments and I thank you for your feedback, but I just haven’t been able to find the motivation to come here and respond to anything, or to come up with any new material.

I just want to do a little bit of thinking out loud…

When I started doubting my religion and that lead me to the wonderful world of skepticism, I felt like the fog had been lifted from my brain. I was free to ponder whatever I wanted, no longer worrying about a tyrannical god monitoring my thoughts, and I began to exercise my curiosity. I felt so much joy in the clarity that skepticism was bringing me, something that I had never felt when I was held back by religion and faith. So, of course, I wanted to share that with people, so I started this blog.

I think maybe people have a tendency to assume that others think the way that they do, so when I started to think skeptically I couldn’t understand how someone could, for example, believe that psychics were legit, when it was so obvious to me that they’re lying or deluded. So when I started my blog I would just kind of post things to make fun of the silly woos without really backing up my thoughts, things that I thought other people would agree with. Now when I look back at that I’m just embarrassed, so part of my lack of motivation to blog lately has had to do with me wanting to distance myself from my past mistakes. I’m considering deleting some of that old stuff, but I don’t want to feel like I’m just hiding my errors.

It’s also a struggle to get across some of the things I’m discovering that help me wade through the vast amount of information that’s out there, to get to the true stuff. I’ve never been particularly good at teaching, but I really want people to know the things I’ve been learning in books (recent ones I’ve enjoyed are Godless, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Demon-Haunted World, and I’m currently reading Voodoo Histories and it’s fantastic). I guess I have trouble understanding that not everyone is as into these things as I am. So I’ve tried to steer my blog more in the direction of discussing my own everyday experiences and how they relate to my skeptical outlook – I hope that’s come across. I think my favourite post of mine has to be the one about my childhood Bible. I guess I’m a little unclear about what I wanted this blog to be, so maybe that’s why I’ve just opted to be silent the past little while? I don’t know…

What really frustrates me, is when people just don’t get the point of what I’m trying to say. I admit that that’s as much (if not more so) my own fault as it is the reader’s, but, okay I’ll give an example… I recently posted about some red flags that could help someone spot bullshit. One of them was about how testimonials aren’t reliable evidence, and then someone comes and posts a testimonial! I just had to laugh after I saw that, and then I started thinking “what am I even doing with this blog?” It feels like nothing!

I guess over the past couple of weeks I’ve been more and more feeling like this whole Struck by Enlightning project has been an exercise in futility. I was going to just shut the whole thing down, but now I’m reconsidering. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living”, and if anything this blog has forced me to examine my life, my words, my beliefs, my flaws.

So I think I’m going to keep plugging along. I overloaded a little bit and now I’m rebooting and I’m going to try to take it easy. I’m going to try to get back to blogging about things that interest me, and I hope some of you are entertained.

Alright thanks for letting me indulge in that rant!

I’ll wrap this up now but I do want to make it clear that I really appreciate everyone’s comments, there have been some thoughtful and some provoking ones lately and although I haven’t responded to them due to my little blogging detox, I have read them all and discussed many of them with my husband.

Okay I’ll shut up now! I’m not even going to read over this so sorry for any spelling errors or if it doesn’t even make sense. I just wanted to put it all out there.

Sunday Bible Reading – An Example of the Anti-Intellectualism of the Bible

1 Corinthians 18-20

Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”

How an intelligent person can put so much stock in a book that promotes not thinking for yourself is beyond me.

This passage stands in contrast to Psalm 14, which reads:

The fool says in his heart, 
“There is no God.” 
They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; 
there is no one who does good.

So fools are corrupt and don’t believe in God, but on the other hand you want to be a fool because wise people are crafty buggers! I’m confused.

Sex and the City and the Suzanne Somers

I went and saw Sex and the City 2 with a friend the other night, and I have to say I enjoyed it. It was fun, corny, light-hearted, and the clothing and furniture made it pretty to look at. But I had one major complaint that spoiled it for me, and that is that Samantha’s entire story-line was basically a commercial for Suzanne Somers’s books and alternative medicine anti-aging nonsense.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

Samantha is the oldest of the group of four ladies (she’s 52 in this movie), and she’s obsessed with staying young. Right near the beginning of the movie she’s asked what surgeries she’s had done to keep her so young, and she replies that she hasn’t had any, and then proceeds to pull out Suzanne Somers’s book (from memory I think the specific book was Breakthrough: Eight Steps to Wellness) and starts talking about all of the hormones and pills she takes and the creams she rubs on herself and patches she wears.

This becomes her gag throughout, as she’s always constantly either rubbing an expensive-looking cream on herself, or swallowing ridiculous amounts of pills. If you’ve seen the previews you know most of the movie takes place in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and when they arrive at the airport there she has all of her drugs confiscated. From this point on she starts complaining about her menopausal symptoms, and she starts rubbing yams and eating hummus because apparantly they have some natural estrogen or something. To top it all off, near the end of the movie (seriously now, spoilers) a room full of women remove their burkas to reveal youthful looking, New York-style fashion wearing women, who are (surprise!) discussing the Suzanne Somers book in their book club.

What makes it worse is that all four of the stars of the movie are smart, successful women, and they offer her no skepticism apart from a little bit of attitude at the silliness of taking so many pills. It’s sad, especially considering the success that the movie is having, to think that women might watch it and think that if they use all of these undoubtedly expensive products, they too could look like Samantha. I hope that most people would approach this skeptically, but I think that this feature-length commercial will unfortunately lend the semblance of credibility to her alternative therapies.

My heart sank immediately when Samantha first pulled out Somers’s book and started talking about bio-identical hormones, but that’s largely because I read skeptical blogs (like Respectful Insolence), so I had seen a lot of evidence-based responses to Somers’s claims before I saw the movie. But even without that prior knowledge, there were some red flags that anyone’s skeptical side could pick up on:

1. Appeal to Celebrity: taking medical advice from an actress is not prudent. Suzanne Somers is not an expert, so before starting any treatment she recommends make sure to consult your doctor, and read reviews of her treatments by skeptical experts, so that you’re not only getting the information supplied by people who have professional or financial interests in promoting these treatments.

2. Naturalistic Fallacy: When Samantha is having her pills taken from her at the airport, she protests by saying “but they’re all-natural!” This is appealing to the fallacy that since something is natural, it’s safe or good for you, but this just isn’t so. I guess Samantha forgot that other substances, such as cocaine or marijuana, that would be confiscated in airport security are also natural. Many natural substances are poisonous to humans, and even ones that are seen as safe and healthy, like Vitamin D, can be overdosed on. One shouldn’t assume that because Suzanne Somers claims the treatments she endorses are natural (I say “claims” because there’s nothing natural about the process of synthesizing bio-identical hormones), that they are healthy and don’t carry risks.

3. Testimonials: Stories are a convincing way to sell a product, as anyone who’s been sucked in by an infomercial knows. But often products that are promoted with the use of testimonials just aren’t supported by scientific evidence. The Skeptic’s Dictionary has a good article on why testimonials are unreliable forms of evidence: “Anecdotal (Testimonial) Evidence“.

4. Quality of Life: Anyone considering a treatment or a lifestyle change should weigh the pros and cons. If somebody is convinced that the anti-aging methods promoted by Suzanne Somers actually work, they should look at Samantha’s lifestyle in this movie and decide whether all of the time spent counting out pills (she swallowed a whole handfull at one point), rubbing creams on herself, and obsessing over her hormone levels is worth the benefits. Personally, I would take the wrinkles and hot flashes and spend the time I saved by not obsessing over my looks doing things I enjoy. One should also keep in mind that supplements aren’t nearly as regulated as pharmaceuticals, so if you’re on a regime that involves swallowing handfuls of supplements daily, you may be risking exposure to contaminants. More on that here, and here.

5. How Kim Cattrall (the actress that plays Samantha) actually stays young: A red flag that should be obvious to every person who is wondering whether they should start a regime like Samantha’s, is that Kim Cattrall looks like she does without all of the hormone nonsense. I browsed a few websites and interviews done with the actress, and she claims to keep her looks by sticking to a strict diet, exercising at least 30 minutes per day, and using botox (guess who else uses botox? Yup, Suzanne Somers). So it’s possible to look just as good as Kim Cattrall without the use of hormone therapies (that are possibly dangerous and that aren’t supported by science).

I hope that most people who watch the movie would pick up on at least a couple of these red flags, and look into Somers’s claims thoroughly before starting such an over-the-top anti-aging regime. Here are some good places to start if you’re looking for a critical look at the things she’s promoting:

  • Dr. Harriet Hall looks at bioidentical hormones in an article for Skeptic Magazine
  • Quackwatch recommends steering clear of bioidentical hormones
  • Science-Based Pharmacy explores the veracity of claims made about bioidentical hormones
  • Newsweek criticizes Somers’s poor grasp of the science behind the treatments she endorses

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