Wednesday, April 28, 2010

on dark urine

In the past few months, friends and family have e-mailed me links advocating quack science of all kinds. Of all of the things that pass my view that I want to comment on, the quack science claims lauding vitamin megadosing, organic foods, natural cures, perpetual motion machines, healing crystals, magical thinking, or young-earth creationism tend to rile me up the most. Unfortunately for me, however, I find myself consistently unhappy with my own writings on these topics. I often write posts during one sitting, let them ruminate overnight (as is often my M.O.), and realize the next day that I have managed to be both condescending and insulting to my friends and family I am trying to persuade and also essentially unpersuasive.

As it turns out, I am not a great science writer. As passionate as I feel about the value and importance of science, I am not particularly skilled at explaining how and why science is important, and why it makes me so angry that people make so much money by selling false hopes and worthless medical products.

And so I hope you'll take 17 minutes to let Michael Specter's TED talk do it better than I can.

Some day I may be up to the important challenge of convincing my friends and family not to waste their time, money, and energy on ginko, echinacea, acai, and organic foods. I hope to also prevent them from falling victim to anti-vaccination dogmatism, conspiracy theories, or global-warming alarmism. Until I can find a way to do all of this without angering and offending all of the people I love, however, I think I'll probably stick to 500-word diatribes about contemporary politics, religion, and philosophy; you know, the topics people don't take so personally.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A further revision for the DSM IV

I need to interrupt my series on the Great God debates to give a shout out to my friend Bruce.

Bruce is a friend from the BYU debate team. While he and I never debated either as partners or against each other at any tournaments, we did always debate fiercely controversial topics on the car rides to every tournament. Although we were very much on different poles of the spectrum on almost every issue when we first met, we’ve both become more pragmatic and moderate as we’ve gotten older, and we actually agree on most things now, and for the same reasons.

Yesterday, however, he pulled off masterfully what I’ve been trying and failing to do for months. I still can’t say whether he’s done it on purpose, or if this was similar to inventing penicillin, but if his method turns out to be reproducible, he may go down in history as the discoverer of the cure for a very serious mental disease.

To make a long story short, he may have cured Obama Derangement Syndrome.

For those of you who have been paying attention to any conservatives or their news sources, you may have been under the impression that the Second Coming of Christ is only days away. Democracy is dead. Capitalism is dead. The American dollar is worth less than the Zimbabwe dollar. Socialism has triumphed. Your freedoms have all been revoked. Obama has single-handedly turned the well-oiled machine of an economy that Bush built and turned it into Russia’s economy circa 1988. Obama needlessly destroyed our government-interference-free utopia of a health care system and replaced it with U.N.-led death panels. In fifteen short months, America has been transformed from an Emersonian paradise into an Orwellian nightmare.

Some of you may not have heard that America is in its final death throes. You might not even believe that others are being so dramatic about it as I am implying. If this is you, I’d urge you to listen to Glenn Beck tonight. Turn on Rush Limbaugh. Shoot me an e-mail and I’ll copy and paste dozens of Facebook status updates from the past week.

So what is this magical cure? How can you convince your friends and loved ones to unload their guns and step away from the brink of an aneurysm? The technique is quite brilliant, actually. Send them to this link. In this piece, an American ex-patriot regales you with dozens of foolish reasons why America is worthless. The author urges you to immediately flee the sinking ship that is America for better countries, of which there are apparently scores.

Suddenly, and without warning, the same people who have been decrying America and Obama will begin to defend him. They will take back all of the apocalyptic and unsupportable pessimism in order to rebuff the unsupported and apocalyptic claims made by an America-hater.

And it will make you smile.

And so, Bruce, I congratulate you on curing our Republican friends of their temporary hatred of America. If your technique works just as well on lefties who blame Bush for 9/11, I might seriously consider nominating you for a Nobel Peace Prize (although apparently that award doesn’t have any cachet anymore either). If nothing else, I award you an honorary degree in civil psychology. Congratulations.