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Nov 05 2011

Mike Adams’ Active Imagination regarding Skeptics, part 2

This is a continuation of this post, being a thorough point-by-point fisking of Mike Adams’ anti-skeptic rant of January 2010. There’s a ton, and this is a Gish gallop, which takes a goodly amount of time to unpack, which is why I have to spread this out over multiple posts. So, without further ado, we begin immediately after the jump.

Skeptics believe that there is no such thing as human consciousness. They do not believe in the mind; only in the physical brain. In fact, skeptics believe that they themselves are mindless automatons who have no free will, no soul and no consciousness whatsoever.

I personally believe there is a human consciousness, which is an emergent property of the electrical impulses of the brain. The mind, however, is altered when the brain is altered so it is ludicrous to propose that this mind is separate and distinct from the brain, will live on after the brain dies, or that it constitutes a “soul” which is immortal and will live on beyond your lifespan. I believe that free will is somewhat of an illusion, in that everything in this universe is deterministic, and every effect is preceded by a mechanistic cause, including those causes and effects related to human interactions. It is, however, an illusion I’m willing to enjoy.

Some skeptics are compatibilists, which means they believe that human actions are “free” in such a way that despite them coming from deterministic actions, we are free to choose different paths and can do things completely differently than our mental states might otherwise recommend — e.g., there’s some wiggle room in the determinism and we can choose to act against our natures. I’m not sure that that holds though — if we’re rebelling consciously against our natures, is that not simply an artifact of knowing that our natures incline us to act a certain way? Is not that choice deterministic also?

As for the mystical mumbo-jumbo, prove to me that there’s a soul or that your personhood can survive your death, and maybe we’ll talk about how stupid these things are that you scoff so hard about.

Skeptics believe that DEAD foods have exactly the same nutritional properties as LIVING foods (hilarious!).

Yes, it’s hilarious in that I have no fucking clue what you mean by “dead” vs “living”. I can’t imagine eating a live cow being any more nutritious than eating a dead and processed and cooked cow, and I can’t imagine eating an apple that’s been picked from a tree being any different than eating the apple while it’s still attached. Explain what this means, and then we can test the nutritional properties of these things.

Skeptics believe that pesticides on the crops are safe, genetically modified foods are safe, and that any chemical food additive approved by the FDA is also safe. There is no advantage to buying organic food, they claim.

Knowing as I do that organic foods receive the same amount of pesticide treatment — just that these pesticides are “organic” — means I know that there’s definitively no advantage. The pesticides we do use, are proven safe over decades of testing. The “chemical food additive” wording is interesting and I’d like to focus on it.

Given that everything we eat or drink is a chemical, that we are made up of chemicals, and that everything we encounter in our daily lives is a chemical, including the air we breathe, I can only assume Adams means “artificial chemicals”. Since man-made chemicals make up pretty well every component of our manufacture as a species, the problem here is the conflation between artificial chemicals that are edible, and artificial chemicals that are non-edible. Since vitamin and herbal supplements are heavily-processed and wholly artificial means of ingesting certain chemicals, e.g. the class of chemicals known as “vitamins”, or distillations of certain herbs that herbalists purport to have certain beneficial effects on our body chemistry, we are engaging in the ingestion of artificial chemicals even when one believes the naturopath’s conflations. The only difference is, many of these chemicals have not been thoroughly tested and vetted by the FDA as being safe for human consumption.

You’re really rolling the dice when you decide to ingest artificial chemicals that have not been tested and proven safe, just because they’re “all-natural” by whatever standards a naturopath deigns makes something safe. I personally prefer scientifically repeatable evidence as my metric, but if you’d like to trust the man claiming magic powers by giving you random pills, more power to you.

Skeptics believe that water has no role in human health other than basic hydration. Water is inert, they say, and the water your toilet is identical to water from a natural spring (assuming the chemical composition is the same, anyway).

And a ton of feathers weighs the same as a ton of bricks. If the chemical composition is the same, then you’re ingesting H2O. The question isn’t about the chemical composition though, it’s about contaminants. And if there are contaminants like fecal matter in the water in the toilet, then your toilet water doesn’t have the same chemical composition, does it?

If both are pure water, where they’re stored is irrelevent so long as where they’re stored doesn’t actually alter the purity of the water. If the water is still pure when you drink it, there’s no difference.

As for the “role in human health other than basic hydration”, what else is there? We need water to live. We need to be hydrated, since we’re made up mostly of water. That water plays several vital roles in, for instance, moving stuff around in our body, filtering toxins from our body, and lubricating our joints and organs. If you think it does MORE than this, I’d like you to say exactly what you think it does, and what evidence you have for it.

Skeptics believe that all the phytochemicals and nutrients found in ALL plants are inert, having absolutely no benefit whatsoever for human health. (The ignorance of this intellectual position is breathtaking…)

What? Seriously, what? Anything that’s bioattainable is not inert. Plants are made of chemicals, you know. Chemicals are not “inert” if they’re bioattainable, meaning if you eat something, you can break it down into its constituent nutrients, and/or have the chemicals with medicinal properties act upon your body. The difference between treating your diseases with a plant and treating your diseases with a drug is, if the drug is derived from the plant, we’ve determined how much of it you need and just using the plant is foolhardy because you could over or underdose yourself. And if the plant is substituting for some other chemical that we’ve discovered treats a disease better, you’re forestalling treatment that could result in your morbidity or mortality.

If this isn’t what you mean, I have no clue what you mean. If plants’ nutrients were inert, they wouldn’t be nutrients, and we would gain no benefit by eating vegetables. This claim is patently ridiculous.

Skeptics believe that the moon has no influence over life on Earth. Farming in sync with moon cycles is just superstition, they say. (So why are the cycles of life for insects, animals and humans tied to the moon, then?)

The moon drives the tides, without which life would probably not have existed on Earth, with little oscillation in the oceans stirring up nutrients. Farming in sync with moon cycles is useful in that in absence of clocks and calendars, practices were developed with respect to these cycles, as they provided a convenient way of telling time. Farming was largely trial and error, something of a science without the scientific controls.

As for the other cycles tied to the moon, put a creature (including humans) in isolation of all influences of day/night or tidal cycles and you’ll see they develop different circadian rhythms.

The moon’s presence is important, and even useful, but it’s not magical.

Skeptics believe that the SUN has no role in human health other than to cause skin cancer. They completely deny any healing abilities of light.

Wow. What utter mendacity. Without the sun, life would not exist at all. The sun is the source of every scrap of energy on this planet that allows life to overcome the thermodynamic effects of entropy. Without the sun’s light and heat, life on Earth would be limited to tiny pockets of geothermal activity, if it evolved at all.

The sun’s ultraviolet radiation does have an effect on human DNA, in that sometimes it will shred it, occasionally causing the cells to start reproducing wildly. A “cancer” is a human cell with the pre-programmed death sequence disabled, so it runs amok, reproducing itself without that death sequence, over and over and over again. As it grows, it crowds out other tissue, stealing their resources and ignoring all the “rules” of being a skin cell in a colony organism as complicated as human beings.

Light has a number of positive effects on the human body. People getting insufficient sunlight may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, and may suffer from insufficient Vitamin D3, which the body can produce as a result of sun exposure. But sunlight can’t “heal” you in any other sense. Try it some time — wound two people in the exact same way of the same stature, age, social status (to control for food intake), and gender, and treat one with modern medicine, and treat the other with a regimen of sunlight. I look forward to your results and your Nobel prize.

Skeptics believe that Mother Nature is incapable of synthesizing medicines. Only drug companies can synthesize medicines, they claim. (So why do they copy molecules from nature, then?)

Willow trees produce salicin, a chemical compound which is metabolized to salicylic acid, which has some excellent analgesic effects on the human body. It also has some side effects, like causing upset stomachs. Its use to us as humans was entirely coincidental, as willow trees evolved this chemical for its antibacterial and antifungal properties.

We learned what receptors salicylic acid binds to, and created a better sort of medicine, acetylsalicylic acid, AKA aspirin. That medicine does the same job — relieves fevers and pain — and doesn’t even cause stomach upset. If a plant made aspirin, that would be great and wonderful. We made a better drug than the willow tree did, though, and I for one won’t prefer willow bark to popping a handy pill derived from medical science.

Same can be said of any drug derived from a plant. Great coincidence that we found it and discovered a utility function, but if we synthesized a better version of it, I hold no remorse for taking that better version.

Skeptics do not believe in intuition. They believe that mothers cannot “feel” the emotions of their infants at a distance. They write off all such “psychic” events as mere coincidence.

Prove there’s something to these so-called psychic phenomena, and we’ll talk. Since you can’t, we won’t. Burden of proof is on the claimant of the extraordinary (e.g. non-intuitive) result of people being able to communicate with one another without any visual, auditory or other sensory clues. Since nobody’s proven there’s anything to extrasensory perception, we can safely assume there isn’t any, until someone DOES actually prove such a thing. And since, statistically, coincidences happen all the time (with seven billion people on the planet, some mother somewhere is bound to guess at some trouble with their child at some point in their lives!), things have to rise beyond the level of coincidence to be significant.

It’s up to the claimant to prove they’re not coincidences. Ten anecdotes, for instance, in a sample size of a few billion people, is not significant.

Skeptics believe that all healing happens from the outside, from doctors and technical interventions. They do not believe that patients have any ability to heal themselves. Thus, they do not ascribe any responsibility for health to patients. Rather, they believe that doctors and technicians are responsible for your health. Anyone who dismisses doctors and takes charge of their own health is therefore acting “irresponsibly,” they claim.

I answered this in the last one but here we go again. Humans have an immune system. That immune system is amazing and fantastic and great. Sometimes that immune system is well overwhelmed by what it faces. If you have available to you a treatment that has been shown to be both safe and effective, especially if it’s been shown to be more effective than simply letting your illness run its course, then you are acting irresponsibly by claiming to know better than those people who have been cured by those procedures, and if you die as a result of forestalling treatment in a manner that’s demonstrably safe and effective, then the gene pool is probably better off without you.

But no, that’s rather callous of me. Some people are simply fooled by charlatans who claim there’s a better way than using science-based medicine to treat a disease. They are conned because we are human beings, and we want to believe that other human beings have our best interests at heart. And some charlatans truly believe they do have our best interests at heart, that we might be able to produce some magical cure for cancer that involves drinking lots of milk and getting regular enemas because those hurt a lot less than chemotherapy.

The problem is, people die when you take an honest but deluded practitioner of naturopathy or homeopathy’s word over the raw scientific data bolstering the medical doctor’s claims.

But that’s what Mike Adams’ entire rant seems to be about — his earnest belief that he truly knows more than the panoply of people who have put an astounding amount of research into showing what works, and what doesn’t, in curing diseases. Worse, he directly attacks several institutions that protect the poor. His writings against breast cancer screenings, against fluoridation, against scientifically derived and evidence-based medical treatments, all want to overturn these institutions and make these poor folks — whose lives depend on the medical science he pooh-poohs — dependant instead on his “ancient Chinese secrets” and unproven and unevidenced “natural” remedies, whose provenance is every bit as unnatural as the medicines he decries.

More another time. I’m only about 40% done that rant, so there’s still lots more fodder to go.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    cadrpear

    Skeptics believe that DEAD foods have exactly the same nutritional properties as LIVING foods (hilarious!).

    Here, Adams pulls a trick right from Humpty-Dumpty. From what I can tell, he’s indulging in a kind of vitalism, where plants and animals are “living”, even when made into food, but when you desecrate them with TEH EBIL PROCESSING, they become “dead food,” which actually means “food I don’t like because it doesn’t agree with my philosophical system.”

    That, of course, is assuming he even has a coherent philosophical system. If he does, it’s “natural doubleplusgood, artificial plusungood, chemicals doubleplusungood, establishment doubleplusungood.” In other words, nature is the highest good, hence the name of his site, and anything that interferes with his concept of nature is inherently harmful to health, regardless of the situation.

    More likely, he’s just a credulous imbecile that reflexively believes in whatever a member of his in-group preaches as truth. This explains his crank magnetism (he’s a truther, for fuck’s sake.) It may also explain his accusations towards skeptics; perhaps he’s projecting his credulity onto us. (He might also consider himself a mindless drone and be projecting that, but that’s really stretching it.)

    Either way, I find such nature-worship (I can’t think of any better way to put it; I’m not directly talking about animism or pantheism here, though Adams’ rhetoric has such tendencies) to be quite depressing; it means we humans cannot possibly improve our lot, as whatever we do beyond a particular point is inherently artificial, ergo non-natural, ergo bad. Stuck with a disease that can’t be cured with natural tools? Feel free to rot. To save your life would go against nature.

    Nature-worship is nihilism packaged in a shiny box with pictures of leaves on it. It is Adams, not the skeptic, who is the agent of death.

  2. 2
    Jason Thibeault

    Yeah, I don’t know that it ascends all the way to animism, but you’re right, it’s pretty close. As for natural being good and artificial being bad, give me a tupperware container over an angry bear any day.

  3. 3
    JohnnieCanuck

    Ever listened to a vegetarian pontificating on the immorality of eating meat, while eating a living carrot? It always strikes me as humourous.

    It’s beyond speciesism, it’s kingdomism!

  4. 4
    'Tis Himself

    Water is inert, they say, and the water your toilet is identical to water from a natural spring (assuming the chemical composition is the same, anyway).

    Growing up in semi-rural Wisconsin, I knew not to drink spring water. It was exactly like toilet water after you’d taken a massive dump, except it was bovine feces rather than human feces.

  5. 5
    ogremk5

    I wanted to comment about an early point before I forget. It’s about your views on determinism. I used to be fully deterministic as well, but now, I’m leaning more towards a contingent approach.

    What that means is that while the mechanics are deterministic, the interactions are so complex that it is likely the same result will not occur in a repeat of the situation. For example, if we reset the Earth to 4.5 billion years ago, would everything be exactly as it is now… would everything repeat exactly?

    I think it unlikely.

    I have come to more a contigency view after reading The Emergence of Life by Luisi. My chapter summary discussing this is here: http://ogremk5.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/the-emergence-of-life-chapter-1/

    Just something for discussion.

  6. 6
    Jason Thibeault

    I have a strong suspicion that determinism is correct, ogremk5, but of course it is a belief predicated on a lack of evidence for just about anything else. So unfortunately, I can’t really tell. I have some sympathy for the idea that, because the quantum molecules that make up everything in the universe have some “random” aspect to them, that perhaps if you were to reset everything back 4.5 billion years ago, things might not happen exactly the same way. The idea of collapsing quantum waveforms disturbs me slightly, in that in some universes the electron goes through one slit and not another, but when we don’t interact with it, we see both at the same time.

    Here’s my thought though — if you’re truly resetting every variable back 4.5bya, does that include whatever pseudo-random processes that caused all those quantum waveforms to do what they did? If so, then you might end up generating the same sequence of random numbers resulting in exactly the same universe. If it’s anything like a computer, where true randomness is for all intents and purposes impossible to achieve, then even the quantum randomness we get in particle physics (which don’t, by the way, result in real randomness with respect to atoms — those act entirely deterministically!), we’d just end up “generating” the same “numbers” to achieve the same pseudo-random results.

  7. 7
    ogremk5

    Jason,

    Thanks and that’s an interesting thought. I fully agree that determinism is more common than not. Chemistry is deterministic after all.

    I guess, another way to look at it, is there sufficient determinism in the universe to successfully predict the future based on current and past knowledge? IOW will we ever be able to predict the weather exactly (even assuming we have sufficient computing power)?

    Hmm… now you’ve got me thinking again.

    I guess a lot depends on how quantum effects influence the macro-universe.

    I still think that there is a place for contigency and that, even due to quantum effects, that if we reset the universe, that we won’t get exactly where we are now. It might even be close. One for the philosophers I guess.

  8. 8
    LukeOZ

    You make some halfway decent points on Mike’s polemical. You see, he was preaching to the choir, he’s exhorting his core followers with that post.

    Most of your points do halfway well at ideological debate, but it’s clear it’s just that. You don’t address the core of his points, which is that the scientific establishment is out to smear anything or anyone who’s not firmly in their camp, as you are.

    Yes, Mike’s post is terribly ideological, but so is yours. In your ideology, you lose sight of the fact that organic agriculture has demonstrable better yields at lower cost over time, and in many cases, more nutrition, and far less toxicity in most cases. Examples: according to the American Chemical Society, organic oranges have twice the vitamin C as conventionally grown, whereas conventional berries have many times more pesticides than organics. So your point about organics is complete pseudoscience hogwash, no better than Adam’s polemical rants against all vaccines.

    Your post rightfully attacks Mike Adams for his vitriolic antics, but you fall to the same level for unfailingly taking the conventional scientific viewpoint. Way to toe the line for big pharma, sucker.

    Most informed consumers tend to take the middle path, using the best of allopathic orthodox medicine, e.g. some vaccines, trauma medicine, but use natural medicine for chronic illness, primarily in the form of prevention. Truly intelligent people pick & choose from both camps, biasing towards the natural side for day-to-day, but using allopathic orthodox medicine for emergencies.

    In the final analysis, it’s those eaters of food and takers of medicine who get to decide with their feet and their dollars which ideology they legitimate and validate–or not. According to Alexa, Mike’s site gets more traffic than yours by several orders of magnitude, so it’s clear who’s winning this ideological flame war. And that’s just web traffic. Look at dollars spent:

    While the lion’s share of insurance monies go to conventional medicine, that’s clearly not the will of the people, but merely the financial plutocratic hegemony of a regulatory system that’s been fully captured by big pharma.

    Who knows what the stats are in Cannuckistan, but numerous studies going back to the early 1990′s show that in the US, consumers spend far more out-of-pocket, billions of dollars more, on natural medicine than on conventional.

    So, pharma-boy.. you like apples? How you like THOSE apples???

  9. 9
    Jason Thibeault

    a) I haven’t gotten to the end of his rant yet, LukeOZ — as I said, I’m only 40% through. I have every intention of pointing out that one amongst the core beliefs he has is that the scientific “establishment” is some kind of monolithic entity keeping his natural miracles down. He says it pretty clearly in a part I’m getting close to getting at — where he believes skeptics think natural is bad, and non-natural is good. Thanks for tipping my hand.

    b) Organic agriculture is generally shown to be approximately identical results-wise, both in nutrition and in yield.

    c) Learn to use Alexa. naturalnews.com has a page rank of 5 times freethoughtblogs.com, which is not terribly surprising since Natural News was founded in 2005 and FtB in 2010. An order of magnitude is ten times, and each increasing order is an extra zero, so to receive several orders of magnitude (e.g. 3 orders of magnitude), he’d have to be making at least a thousand times the rank. I have no idea what ranks translate to in terms of traffic, but FtB is no slouch at roughly five million views a month. (And climbing steadily.)

    d) My ideology is as follows: that which is true, can be proven to be true. Medical science concerns itself with “traditional” and “alternative” medicine that has been proven to work. Can you prove any of what you’ve said to be true? Perhaps with links?

    e) Your body can only use so much Vitamin C. Megadosing on it results in really expensive and vitamin-C-laden urine.

    f) Canada does not have a profit motive for medicine because we have a single payer system. Your antipathy against health care is understandable, and your country’s prevalent use of “natural” remedies (which = remedies sold over the counter that have not been proved to work or been proved not to work) is understandable, because they’re far cheaper than going to a doctor who may or may not concern themselves primarily with profit.

  10. 10
    Troythulu

    Hey, Jason. It’s been awhile. I’ve had some of Adams’ silliness forwarded occasionally in my Google alerts, and I just might have fun deconstructing it myself — I could use the practice.

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