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Wednesday, July 8

Life outside the echo chamber

I I am the worst person at dealing with things which "don't compute". As a result I am much happier when immersed in social media which agrees with my values, politics and system of thought. I'd say system of belief, but I am generally in denial over how much my outlook is influenced by beliefs, rather than logic. Some people are belief driven only, few people are logic driven only. Many logical people, such as myself, assume it's logic that drives their thought process, when often it's logic that's used to rationalise an instinct or belief driven approach.

I write this as though I agree with it, when I worry that it might be right and hope that it's wrong. I think that I use reason more than belief... But I also think I believe that. Aaagh.

With my engineer's head on, and my Boolean true or false way of looking at what people claim, I am very good at agreeing with Skeptics - the folks who look for robust evidence instead of believing claims made outside the mainstream. I am terrible when the echo chamber, in which I live, is removed and I have to see what people outside of it seem to claim.

Here's the thing. I don't respect your opinion. I don't give a toss what you think. You're not special for thinking things and you're not right just because you're insistent or can come up with reasons. I only care about robust provable things. Let's call them facts. In particular, I agree with the principle of parsimony. If it takes a lot of explaining to show why your view is true, and if it's outside of the mainstream, and not backed up with new robust peer reviewed research, then it's most likely bollocks. Often pure bullshit.

This approach applies to big pharma as much as it applies to homeopathy. If you have to dig deep to find an explanation. If you claim to be exempt from standard tests, then I don't believe a word of it. Prove it. The burden of proof is on the extraordinary claimant, not the non believer.

There are some things I think are true:

- alternative medicine is always bollocks - if it worked it would be called medicine
- if there were a cure that worked, then big pharma would be selling it for a fortune, not trying to stop people finding out about it
- charities on the whole are doing good work, especially big well known ones... Sure there are questions over the efficiency of their expenditure, and there are some cases of abuse, but the higher the profile, the more eyes inspecting it, and the more potential whistleblowers
- charities set up to promote alternative medicine are killing people through diverting resource away from useful things
- there are no big conspiracies
- I saw the events of 9/11 on TV on the day and they are pretty much as the media claimed
- there is no 'they' who are the alleged people in 'they don't want you to know about this'
- cancer is not caused by diet and is probably not rising as much as the statistics tell you
- diet cannot cure disease
- all 'opaths' like homeopaths, naturopaths, osteopaths etc, are practising made up medicine that doesn't do what they claim and is more likely to cause harm than good
- patients are the worst judge of a medicine as they only know what's happening to them, not why or how
- well it works for me is a bullshit answer to the question of evidence
- big corporates are not innately evil. They're often staffed by humans trying to just do a good jobs
- some things that leaders of big corporations do are ruthless and against the common good
- ultimately big corporates are accountable to their customers who can influence them en made by purchasing behaviour.
- big corporations are good because their wealth allows them to achieve more innovation and world improvement than an individual or small collective could
- big charities are good because of the above

All of the above makes sense to me. If any evidence to the contrary is discovered, I'll change my opinion. Probably.

All of this is leading to the sorrowful tale of how I reacted to the thread which followed a friend of mine posting on Facebook about how cannabis oil is a cure for something or other. The thing about this is that it immediately raises the red flags. Cannabis is being touted as a wonder treatment for all sorts of things and a certain group of people, especially users of this illegal substance, would love that to be true, as it would feel like sticking it to the man or some such. It has the ring of wishful thinking to it, and brings out the conspiracy theorists.

I wonder whether good research into this substance will prove the alleged benefits. I have not found any accepted published studies.

I always post the counter opinion to these sorts of claims when they happen in my social circle, usually with links to articles from authorities or people who do their research.

I was unprepared for what the crazies of the Internet would do in response to this. I ended up in a strange and slippery debate with someone, let's call her Toni Spence, for that's her name, over the link I posted from Cancer Research UK citing the myths of cannabis oil for cancer treatment.

Her view seemed to be that Cancer Research doesn't want you to know about the real cure. That's slap bang in the middle of my aversion to 'they don't want you to know that'. My bullshit detector went to red alert. After a bit more probing it seemed this woman believes that charities are a tax dodge and are corporations who need to keep people from getting cured in order to keep themselves in business. I say seemed because I couldn't pin down her views, which I told her were cynical and unfounded and she told me were 'real life'.

Her view was coloured by the fact that she lost someone to cancer and that the conventional treatment didn't cure it. The fact that some cancer can't be cured by conventional medicine is no proof that wishful thinking unproven or disproven alt med actually works. Of course.

I got into a bit of name calling. I call her cynical and a despicable human being. I thought she was dismissing a ton of good work and good science done by smart and well meaning people by declaring it a tax loophole and a corporation trying to keep itself in business.

It just doesn't make sense. Anyone with a cure to even a tiny subset of cancer could make a fortune and would. They don't because these fringe techniques don't work the way they claim. The idea that corporations making money is evil, even if they're charities, but the purveyors of these unproven, potentially false treatments can charge for them and it's not evil is an absurd take on the situation. Every time you give money to an alt med practitioner, you're empowering someone whose ineptitude will eventually do harm.

Yes, some doctors, through being human, make mistakes and get it wrong, and do harm... But they don't do so deliberately... Unless they abandon all sense, training, AND THE LAWS OF PHYSICS and blend homeopathy or acupuncture into their practice... But I digress.

Genuinely sickened by the approach from Toni Spence I brooded over my reaction. What would be the right thing to do for a greater good? What would be the funniest way to call her a cunt?

As the debate progressed, I suggested that we should all donate to the charity trying to help with cancer research. I was told that they were unprepared to. To be honest, I was told a lot of things, including that I didn't know the realities of "palative care", and then, when I mentioned that I'd seen my grandmother through it, was told that "it was probably her time". I think I was a bell end for doing what I'm about to describe, but I also think that I did something positive to call someone I think is a cunt out for being a cunt.

I donated to Cancer Research UK. Do it. They're good people. Better than I am. I dedicated the donation to "Toni Spence who should fucking know better" and I posted the screen grab of the thank you on the Facebook thread.

I know.

I am a bad person. This behaviour and name calling is kind of bullying and kind of cuntish. I think I was being fed several flavours of intangible bullshit as I tried to reason with and make sense of this person's claims, but I was wrong. I am also unrepentant. I think what I did was funny in a way, and a kind of positive result from a long drawn out pointless argument.

I made no friends that day.

Here's the sad part. There is a local promoter of comedy who waded into the debate to add her own bullshit about cancer. Apparently it is caused by a non alkaline body...


You can't cure cancer with fucking baking soda you utter bellend.

I didn't bother calling her out on the thread, in case she ever might decide to start booking me again. I suspect she won't for reasons unfathomable, though disagreeing with me on internet threads will add to that reason no doubt.

And this is where I have to stop. If you drop out of your safe bubble of sane people into a world where cancer charities want you to have cancer, which can be cured by having a spliff and eating self raising flour anyway, and where 9/11 was a controlled explosion that everyone was in on... Well, it is going to drive you up the wall.

You can't use reason against people who have decided to believe the impossible.

I have a theory about this. In a world where survival of the fittest doesn't apply to humans any more, thanks to medical science that can preserve and further weaker members of the gene pool, there must be a self destructive impulse within the population to reduce numbers. Maybe it's part of evolution. A group of people must resist social progress by fearing it and putting their faith in things that will lead to a reduction in their chances at life. Maybe every death through choosing alternative medicine over actual medicine is evolutions way of selecting out those genes...?

Or maybe this is part of the existential angst you get when your needs are broadly met. You can't strive for anything basic, so you have to strive against the system to give you a battle.

I for one will be returning to my cosy world where knowledge is awesome, rather than evil destructive power.


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