No, I’m not a scientist. I’ve never claimed that distinction. I’m just someone who is awed by those who have attained academic degrees and gone forward to augment our understanding of how the world works – which is what I believe science should be all about. Years ago, I saw with satisfaction how great progress was being made in science, how the inevitable errors were promptly corrected, and how we could depend on what we were told by the media – though there were always some media sources we well knew were dedicated to nonsense and quackery, and we wrote those off. But we knew who the dependable people and agencies were. All that has changed.
Now, I’m much less enthused about the sort of science that I encounter in the press and on television, and the Information Age has obviously become our enemy rather than our friend, as we once thought it would be. Money and ego have taken over. Any nonsense that powerful people like Oprah Winfrey want to promote is featured as fact, quackery is extolled, pseudoscience is flaunted as fact in news media rather than on pulp magazine racks, and at the rate that flummery is taking over, I’m wondering whether my next book, A Magician in the Laboratory, will ever see print – I can’t seem to finish it because of the constant load of misinformation that pours in, daily. Here are two examples of the sort of thing that has so discouraged me:
I’ve mentioned before Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon in the Department of Surgery at Columbia University and medical director of the Integrative Medicine program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. This man has “therapeutic touch” practitioners prancing about in his operating room to “even out the human aura” on patients that he has laid out on his table for surgery. He has endorsed such juvenile notions as reiki – his wife is a professional reiki “master” – and he has a very popular TV show that Oprah bought for him in which he preaches every sort of “alternative medicine” that comes to his – or Oprah’s – admiring attention. When I was interviewed along with him for an ABC-TV show a few years back, he demonstrated that his dedication to medical misinformation was very well advanced. Now he has a series of shows featuring one of the major quacks in business today, osteopath Dr. Joe Mercola. This is a man who has denounced vaccination, the use of prescription drugs, and surgery, to treat patients. Whether he wears a witch-doctor mask while he works and/or peddles his line of merchandise, I don’t know. A 2006 editorial in Business Week characterized Mercola's marketing practices as "relying on slick promotion, clever use of information, and scare tactics.”
Showing that other countries can match our naivety, Professor Jeff Reimers of the University Of Sydney in Australia, has now concluded from his earth-shaking experiments that DNA can mysteriously be teleported. Yes, that means sent through space by magical means. He has attracted support from Nobel laureate Dr. Luc Montagnier, who believes that there is evidence that DNA can transport electromagnetic imprints of itself to cells within the human body with which it has had absolutely no contact, according to an article in the New Scientist magazine, yesterday. Reimers believes that enzymes – who are apparently living entities with sensory systems, in his view – are tricked into believing that the electromagnetic imprints projected by DNA molecules – which must be similarly equipped with sensory abilities – are received and accepted as being real. As a magician, I have to wonder whether these enzymes and DNA molecules would also enjoy a good card trick or two…
Reimers' lab team, we’re told, set up an experiment in which they placed two test tubes next to each other “within a copper coil.” Already, it sounds scientific, right? Then, in one of those tubes they placed DNA. The other tube was filled with just pure water. Do I begin to sense homeopathic influences here? The tubes were then subjected to a “low frequency electromagnetic field,” and after 18 hours were given a “polymerase chain reaction (PCR) process that multiplied millions of copies of the DNA sequence. A miracle took place. In the water-only tube there appeared “imprints” (?) of the same DNA molecules that were in the first tube! This was the first-ever scientific proof of teleportation, just as magicians have been doing for years – though on a much larger scale – in Las Vegas. Penn & Teller, take notice…
In my admittedly amateur view of all this scientific stuff, I feel that that a more likely possibility is that the very common scientific error known as “sample contamination” could be at work here, rather than a complete overturning of science, though that sort of press release seldom makes headlines.
No, my faith in the media – and in “alternative medicine” – is still at a very low point…