Tuesday, May 24, 2011

DXM History Repeats: Celebrity Pseudoscience


A quick diversion as we continue our look back through the subjects I've hit on again and again over the last five years here at DXM. From Oprah, to Jenny McCarthy, to Dr. Robert Lanza, to Arianna Huffington -- whom I write for quite a bit -- one thing I can't even pretend to tolerate is the proliferation of bullshit celebrity pseudoscience in our culture. This should be obvious to anyone who's followed DXM even semi-regularly since its inception. The following is a pretty good piece when it comes to addressing this ongoing trend because not only does it lay out my thoughts on the subject pretty clearly, it also links to several of the other columns that have appeared here related to celebrities, their touting of holistic remedies, and their arrogant belief that they know what's better for your health than you and your doctor.

The DXM Fifth Birthday Jubilee

Topic: Celebrity Pseudoscience

Number of Posts: 39


"Medicine Bull" (Originally Published, 3.19.10)

Patton Oswalt does a great bit on his most recent album where he smacks down his "Whole Foods friends" who insist that he and his pregnant wife should give their child a natural home birth. He basically makes the point that back when women had no choice but to have babies at home and without today's conveniences, you know what they dreamed of? "Hospitals! Weird, fantastical, futuristic buildings full of clean white sheets -- and doctors with needles full of magic liquid that make the pain not happen!"

This is what I think of whenever I hear somebody relentlessly proclaim the power of holistic, all-natural folk remedies and tout them as a superior alternative to the modern medicine practiced by doctors with actual degrees. As if the earliest settlers who first came up with the idea of swallowing blackstrap molasses and apple cider vinegar to cure everything from joint pain to full blown cancer knew anything about fucking anything. It's ironic that there's an entire genus of lunatic out there these days that eschews hundreds of years of medical advancements out of inexplicable fear and superstition in favor of taking the advice of people who were fearful of and superstitious about pretty much everything. Sure, they probably would've been afraid of an injection that had been proven to cure polio, but that's only because they would've thought it was witchcraft. We're supposed to know better by now.

I bring this up because, as much as I'm a fan of the Huffington Post -- important given that I write for them regularly -- the heat that the site's Living section continues to take over its advocating of crap science is entirely justified. I already mentioned that the only thing I've ever submitted to HuffPo that's been turned down flat was my admittedly caustic screed against anti-vaccine militant Jenny McCarthy; I also took a minor shot here at a piece that HuffPo ran late last year from a doctor who was pushing a "new theory" that amounted to nothing more than meta-physical nonsense about how death doesn't actually exist.

Well, now Salon's getting in on the action by tearing into an absurdly alarmist article that deals with an old nemesis of the perpetually paranoid and hypochondriacal, one once thought extinct: MSG. It's not so much that MSG might in fact be mildly problematic for those who are extremely sensitive to it (despite the fact that a link between it and serious health issues has been disproved several times over); it's that the title of the damn piece is "MSG: Is This Silent Killer Lurking in Your Kitchen Cabinets?" If that sounds like the kind of histrionic "special investigation" you'd hear your local news station trumpet through your TV speakers right around sweeps time, trust me, it reads like it. The article's claims are dubious at best -- fear-mongering garbage at worst.

And yet there are reputable publications -- HuffPo among them -- that continue to peddle this kind of specious pseudoscience as legitimate wisdom. Why celebrities tend to buy into and wholeheartedly endorse such silliness is one of those things I'll go to my grave not understanding. I guess when you're really wealthy two things happen: a) you become arrogant to the point where you start to believe you can actually cheat your body's breakdown and eventual death, and b) you have a lot of cash and free time to experiment with ways to do just that. It's simply staggering, though, that with all the medical advancements of the last several centuries -- with all we've learned about the human body and how to fix it when something goes wrong -- there are still people out there who feel more comfortable sucking on a piece of licorice root or aligning their Chakras than listening to a doctor or taking medication.

Because believe me, the people who first discovered these ancient remedies would much rather have had a prescription for Keflex to treat a staph infection than a jar of turmeric paste. That's if you could convince them that the magic pills weren't the work of the devil.

4 comments:

SteveR said...

A friend of mine went to China after surviving a car accident, expecting to get his back straightened out, or at least get some decent massage. The Chinese doctor (who has western and traditional Chinese training) examined him the traditional way, by looking at his eyes, tongue, feeling his pulse and so on. Later that day, his assistant gave my friend medicine for his heart. My friend protested, saying nothing was wrong with his heart, but the assistant persisted. Eventually my friend stopped taking the medicine, thinking it useless.

When he returned home to the US, he had an X-ray taken of his back. The doctor called with the results: he has a heart problem and should get it looked at right away.

Sure, some of it's bullshit, but some of it isn't.

Anonymous said...

Timely:

http://yourlife.usatoday.com/health/medical/story/2011/05/CDC-Measles-epidemic-poses-travel-risks/47546128/1

nicole473 said...

Jenny McCarthy and her crowd have brought back diseases, such as measles, that were once eradicated by spewing their ridiculous anti-vaccine crap all over the net and the airwaves. Nothing infuriates me more.

If I want to know whether a source is regarded as a quack, I visit one of two sites, both of which are written by doctors/scientists who write about the pseudo-science practitioners regularly. Both sites have no love for Arianna Huffington, by the way, due to her propensity to give airspace to the money-grubbing, anti-science morons who air their stupidity in her "science" section. Gah.

http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/

http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/
p.s. sorry about the rant, but it's a sore subject with me.

Matt Osborne said...

Jenny McCarthy should be required to face a row of kids with whooping cough.