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Women In Secularism 2 – Faith Based Pseudoscience liveblog #wiscfi

Women In Secularism 2 logo

Moderator: Desiree Schell
- Carrie Poppy of Oh No Ross & Carrie (Spent 5 months undercover in Raelian movement!)
- Sarah Moglia of Secular Student Alliance (has Crohn’s Disease and has pseudoscience foisted on her)
- Rebecca Watson of Skepchick (“Teen Skepchick is just like Skepchick without the profanity”)
- Amy Davis Roth of Skepchick, Mad Art Lab, aka Surly Amy (we’re all part of her art project if we have a Surly!)

More liveblogging by Kate and Miri!

Amy discusses homeopathy — live demonstration of like curing like. Find a healthy person, then find a thing that causes a sickness in that healthy person that’s like the original sickness you want to cure. Rebecca: “Hey, I was going to drink that!” Amy: “So now we have this poison that’s going to kill Rebecca Watson later.” Dilutes, succuses, repeats several times, into different glasses, then the last drop into a “happy” sugar pill. Will hand out pills to cure everyone of things. Hey Amy, can you help cure me of my sobriety?

Chronic pain sometimes tricks you into believing pseudoscientific products work because of the placebo effect, and because of the self-limiting nature of the pains, so you think you’re doing something effective by taking homeopathic “medicine” and selection bias does the rest.

Rebecca: Homeopathy came from Germany via Hahneman, popularized in Christian scientists in America by Eddy. Was spread via religion. Amy: This was a great alternative to blood-letting at the time.

Wifi problems, couldn’t keep typing, missed some stuff trying to fix.

Rebecca grew up Baptist — saying that something other than prayer works was “evil”. Now onto Reiki – Carrie says “faith healing” is a catch-all term for anything where people wave their hands over people and pretend like they’re helping someone heal. There are apparently reiki certifications, much to the consternation of the panelists. “Who is this?” Carrie: “I don’t know… it was a man…?” *haha* Audience member: “DID HE HAVE A RAKE?”

Rebecca: Creationism is a pseudoscience, big obvious overlap between religion and pseudoscience. It’s a problem because religious right is pushing it into public schools. There are Muslim creationists, not just limited to Christians. Another is genital mutilation, cultural practice supported by and encouraged by religion to keep women “pure and chaste”. No evidence for this, entirely pseudoscience. Jewish tradition of male circumcision goes beyond religion, but rabbis have tradition of performing circumcision then stemming the blood flow with their mouths, causing herpes infections and deaths. Ongoing war on women through religion happening everywhere — dumbest bits of pseudoscience include things like “women who are raped can’t get pregnant”, allusion to the politician who thought “body has ways of shutting down illegitimate pregnancies”. Encourages removal of contraception, that contraception and abortion is murder.

Carrie: “Everything happens for a reason” is a terrible thing to say to someone with a disease. That “god has a plan” nonsense discourages people from getting necessary medical treatment.

Rebecca brings up The Secret. The Law of Attraction — “it’s more of a theory really… failed hypothesis…” — you can have anything you want in the universe as long as you pretend hard enough, then the universe will give it to you.

Carrie: “I think I was doing this unwittingly, I had pictures of Matthew Perry all over my room. I would be Carrie Perry.”

People who are most often attracted to Law of Attraction are the people most desperate, most in need. But it’s the ultimate form of victim blaming — if you are disadvantaged, then you’re “not asking the universe properly”.

Talks about a reality show where daughter broke into celebrities houses and stole all their stuff, whose mother taught The Secret.

Sarah: “Is The Secret like Underpants Gnomes?”

Amy: Pseudoscientific fear of “toxins”, breeds anti-science mentality that everything contains toxins, breeds distrust of doctors or random science items like wifi, etc.

Sarah: killing sharks to grind up shark fins for things like getting erections, herbal medicine treatments that are derived from rare items obtained from animals, all unevidenced.

Carrie: You can’t underestimate how things that have no effect on you might have drastic effects on someone else. e.g., when a Mormon, was taught that God “makes very clear” what sex a person is supposed to have, and therefore there’s no such thing as intersex people. Has had conversations with Mormons that had no idea what she was talking about by “intersex”.

Chiropracty can lead to injury and death if done pseudoscientifically — Rebecca’s mom goes to a chiropractor, she asks her mother to look around the office and tell her anything on the posters and flyers and to ask her doctor if he says he can cure anything other than back pain. Said “don’t let him touch your neck, otherwise you’ll have fun.” It can be a “gateway” to other pseudoscience though.

One pseudoscience Rebecca has problems assigning any harm to Bigfoot believers, was to a bigfoot conference with hats that said “gone ‘squatching”, was all fun, no real harm in it.

Amy: “To Tim Farley’s credit, [the sasquatch-suit-wearing guy killed in a car accident] didn’t make it to What’s The Harm dot net”

Amy: Alternative products have often been marketed toward women, empowers women in poor families in a sense — instead of being passive about sick child, can pick up a remedy actively if the kid has a self-limiting problem like a head cold.

Sarah: Everyone here supports modern medicine, but doctors don’t treat men and women the same. Women die of heart attacks because doctors don’t believe their claims of pain. She had a Crohn’s flare-up but was told by doctors that she was “just hysterical”. Have to see doctor after doctor to find someone willing to listen to her. Doctors often only spend minutes with a patient, but naturopaths are willing to listen for hours. Women often have anemia, looking it up online suggests that women get them because of periods (because doctors use that). But *most* women with anemia have a GI bleed!

Rebecca brings up “Women’s Intuition” — men have reason, women have intuition, presented to women as something they should be proud of. Mention of Jenny McCarthy — boos. Spreads the misinformation that vaccines cause autism — every scrap of scientific information says they do not, but Jenny “figured out” that her son was a “crystal child” and that Jenny herself was “an indigo child”, and she believed all this before she realized her son wasn’t an “angel being” but was autistic. She “knew” what was right for her son because she was a “tiger mom”, had this innate knowledge of what was wrong with her son and what to do with him, wouldn’t let people push her around and tell her what to do.

Empowering women through science and skepticism is better than letting women empower themselves through “intuition”. McCarthy has helped babies die of whooping cough etc, all because of the fear of toxins that she’s whipped up.

Need to focus on the people affected by problems, not necessarily the problems themselves, to help empower people. Amy: “If a Latino woman enters the secular movement, what special resources will she find here that they will not get in their religions? Secular communities need to do a better job of stepping up and caring for the people.”

Reaching out to new groups by making good use of people already in those groups — helps, even, to have women talking about the same issues that men are speaking about. Adding disabled bloggers to blog network helps reach out to those disabled in the same ways. Elyse can blog about being a mother and vaccines because she is a mother, where Rebecca can’t blog in a way to talk to parents.

Increasing the diversity increases the number of topics you can talk about and focus on — spreading out the diversity doesn’t dilute “what is atheism or skepticism” (uh oh, completely disagreeing with Ron Lindsay!). There’s room for everyone to help focus on so many issues at once.

If your mom likes chiropracty, find out what people are moved to like chiropracty, not just people speaking from your own perspective. Learn what they like about it before confronting it.

Carrie was CO2 poisoned at one point, and thought her house was haunted. When friends “see spirits” in the home, she uses that personal anecdote as a jumping off point.

War on women by religious right is having direct results — and it so obviously overlaps with the skeptical movement. Fighting the religious oppression of women is entirely inside our domain as skeptics.

Sarah: “Part of the problem with our movement is that we keep talking about ‘science says this, studies say this’, but that’s not relateable. Knee jerk reaction to ‘holistic’, when caring for a person rather than a disease is valuable. Had a few diseases and surgeries, and it’s scary, especially when you’re young. Caring for the person would help, and patient-centred care is becoming a thing in the health care industry. Treat the person, not the disease.” Yes, we should do the same with skepticism and atheism. Hell yes.

Q/A (and also Rebecca Watson drinking the red-dyed water)

q1: Pathfinders(??) What can secularists do to help people who are “lost” and in need of social support?

Amy: Yes, we need more like that woman who works with grief counselling
Go to Foundation Beyond Belief and make a donation.

Some confusion about Pathways, which is alt-med.

Rebecca: “Someone needs to step up and be the Oprah of critical thinking, because Oprah is not.” (“And it’s not going to be me, because I’m too mean.”)

Sarah: “Our problem is we have Bill Maher, who doesn’t believe in germ theory.” Atheist, but not a skeptic. Got one question right, thinks he’s right about everything else.

Q2: Why are you so mean about alternative medicine, things that aren’t understood how they work? If it works, it works, why are you discounting that?

Rebecca: You need to get “Trick or Treatment” by Simon Singh. We can know WHETHER something works even if we don’t know HOW, via controlled experimentation. For instance, when sailors were dying abruptly, controlled experiments to give citrus to people actually worked. They knew it worked, but didn’t know what Vitamin C was or how necessary it was. Didn’t even know what scurvy was. It worked, limes were given to sailors, that’s how they came to be known as limeys.

Idea of homeopathy is ridiculous — but doesn’t really matter that placebo effect helps, because it’s been studied extensively to not have an effect. Unethical for doctors to lie to patients that placebos are being prescribed instead of medicine. Doctors COULD actually give sugar pills and say so though.

Hawthorne Effect has effect out of “please your doctor” effect.

Carrie: “My husband and I play that Please Your Doctor game all the time.” OH YEAH SHE WENT THERE

Q3: What do you think of religion trying to take over for helping with mental illness, giving “talk therapy”?

Rebecca: one aspect of Scientology is the attempt to end psychiatry as a practice.

Amy: Are causing great harm by misdirecting from treatment — and also taking their money.

Carrie: Psychologists and psychiatrists will happily tell you there are unanswered questions.

Rebecca: Can be helpful to just have someone to go to and tell your problems. Secularists could do this too, the way religious leaders fill the role of being an ear for people who need it. Psychics do it too. Can get out of hand and lead to bad consequences, but majority of cases it’s just someone talking to someone they trust.

Carrie: “Should there be a skeptics confessions booth?” Rebecca: “I wanna be the person taking the p

Q4: “For those of you who think skeptics should be focused on other issues but skeptics are too concerned about “mission drift” and don’t want us, what should we do?”

Start your own group. Vote with your dollars, get your own leaders who feel those issues are important, work on those issues. Most of them could use a healthy dose of skepticism.

(Me: Of course, starting your own group could cause people to claim you’re being divisive and pooh-pooh your existence, like with Atheism Plus… ahem.)

Good for skeptics to push truth — discussion about some feminist blogs that were concerned about a panel making recommendations to women for their health re breast cancer, saying it was a panel of men — but it wasn’t, it was half and half. Skeptics challenged this in the comments. Showed up at Orac’s blog, reinforcing the actual recommendations.

Sarah: some organizations consider social justice mission creep, but looking long-term, the students in this movement are overwhelmingly supportive of making skepticism and secularism about social justice. (Me: If you don’t support social justice “mission creep”, you’re missing the future members of the movement!)

High school and college are the times to reach people where they might get caught up in a pseudoscience and get crystallized in it ten years down the road.

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  1. […] Jason/Miri/Kate covered the first panel, on faith-based pseudoscience. The panelists discussed the ways medicine in particular is undermined by quackery, and to give the True Skeptics™ conniptions, specifically addressed how religious lies contribute to the problem. […]

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