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Monkey Business PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Harriet Hall   

Oh no! My favorite mischievous monkey, Curious George, has been co-opted to brainwash children with pseudoscience. Is nothing sacred? See

http://everydayskeptics.com/pseudoscience-in-childrens-cartoons/ On the DVD, an innocent CG cartoon segment is followed by a “real life” segment where children visit a naturopath. He tells them oregano seems to be helpful for fighting germs, he shows them acupressure points and indicates the meridians where the “energy” flows, and offers the kids bandages with embedded magnets. He then talks about maintaining health with exercise and good diet – as if it were something naturopaths recommend that regular doctors don’t.

Naturopathy sounds so good – it’s “natural.” It claims to address the cause of illness rather than just treating the symptoms. But in reality it’s a mixture of real medicine and quackery. Natural treatments have to be tested by science just like any other treatments, and very little of what naturopaths recommend has been properly tested or has passed the tests. In addition to prescribing plant-based remedies, naturopaths promote all sorts of bizarre nonsense including homeopathy, enemas, iridology and reflexology. Naturopaths are only licensed to practice in 15 states; if they operate elsewhere they are technically practicing medicine without a license.

Someone has cynically taken advantage of a beloved character from children’s literature to make an infomercial for a dubious system of healthcare, a system based on belief rather than on evidence. What next? Will the kids on Sesame Street be visiting a witchdoctor or a psychic? A dowser or a therapeutic touch practitioner?

There is nothing wrong with entertainment just for entertainment’s sake, but if they are going to add educational information it would be nice if they would present information that was educational. There is no excuse for telling children magnets have therapeutic effects. As Robert Park said in his book Superstition, science is the only way of knowing; all else is superstition. There is no excuse for teaching superstitions to our children.

The man with the yellow hat needs to come and rescue George from all association with this pseudoscientific silliness. You might say the monkey needs to be “detoxified.”

 

 

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written by MadScientist, April 05, 2009
Noooo! Sacrilege! Who's the next victim? Pogo? Calvin and Hobbes?

We need a "Curious George Goes to the Naturopath"; needless to say our beloved monkey must die in that story.
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written by iiwo, April 05, 2009
Ugh.

Magnets and acupuncture...sigh.

Not sure about oregano. There are some things that could be considered natural cures that have antibiotic properties. Nothing compared to commercially available ones, but...for example: penicillin! Among other things.

I'm not sure that oregano is among those things...even if it is, there isn't much (if anything) that can be used in its raw form.

As for the other things...sigh smilies/sad.gif. Each item listed slides further and further down and away from reality. If you could see my face it went from "meh, ok...to 'huh?', to 'oh boy...' to 'WHAT!'".

Why can't the whackpots stick to one title and promote themselves with one common name? As mentioned, there are some aspects of naturopathy that can be effective (albeit it less so)...why oh why must everything get so mixed up by the voo-doo doctors!

And Curious George...I love you man, get yourself away from this guy before he does you in! You're worth more than that!
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@Herc
written by Human Person Jr, April 06, 2009
Harry Potter does NOT teach superstition to our children, a simple fact I suspect you already know. The Potter books teach the wonderment of fantasy and the joy of reading.

What about magic shows? Do they teach children that coins are REALLY sitting there, in their ears, waiting for the magician to find them?

Don't be an ass. Just admit you believe in this naturopathic flummery as a religion. Any other kind of belief in naturopathy would be too uncomfortable to hold.
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They set their sCAM hooks early
written by daijiyobu, April 06, 2009
And then that PBS-woo indoctrinated child

[I'm not bashing ALL of PBS, but they do show CG (see http://pbskids.org/curiousgeorge/ )]

has been pre-conditioned to consider naturopathy legitimate, perhaps legitimate enough to believe ND schools' entries [propaganda] in Peterson's College Guide

http://graduate-schools.petersons.com/bydiscipline/u/Medical+Professions+and+Sciences/d/Naturopathic+Medicine/di/2543/sponsor/7997.aspx

and get an ND themselves.

After all, naturopathy is [mis]labeled a "medical profession" that's "science-based" and "health science."

-r.c.
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written by The SkepDoc, April 06, 2009
I love Harry Potter, but I don't think any rational person would believe Hogwart really exists or would use the books as a source of health advice or scientific information. I'm all for imagination and creative fantasy; I just object to misrepresenting it as if it were scientific truth. If the Curious George story had featured a magic stone that zapped a disease away, that would be acceptable and very different from showing a live segment where real children were given magnetic bandages by a "real" doctor.
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Layers within layers within layers...
written by daijiyobu, April 06, 2009
Dr. H. wrote: "an innocent CG cartoon segment is followed by a 'real life' segment where [real] children visit a [real] naturopath."

Perhaps the ND may answer -- as an out, when really pinned down about the truth [legitimacy] of what they do / whether what they do works / is "real life":

"actually, I'm not a really real doctor. I never said I was. This is TV. Real TV. I'm only a real naturopath, playing a real TV doctor [i.e., 'posing this as legitimate']. I'm offering fantastical therapeutics and premises on a children's TV fantasy show only as if it's real life."

I've confused myself; they've confused me. They've accomplished their goal.

There's that great joke: 'I only play a real person on TV.'

The CG example -- blending fact with fiction -- is so appropriate for naturo.:

it parallels my experience that NDs do not distinguish between scientific fact and figmentation

(see http://www.oregon.gov/OBNE/Aboutnaturopathy.shtml )

[another example, like parts of PBS programming, of the public funding harm to themselves].

-r.c.
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Also, regarding naturo. woo courtesy of PBS:
written by daijiyobu, April 06, 2009
It's ironic that I just received this email from the AANP, moments ago:

"on April 8, 2009 the country's first series on naturopathic medicine will air on southern California's KOCE, the sixth-largest PBS station in the country. Produced by the award-winning American Health Journal in conjunction with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the series will educate the public about the practices and philosophy of naturopathic medicine."

Thanks, PBS. Naturocrit is eager for more naturopathic absurdity.

-r.c.
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Superstition
written by macgyver, April 06, 2009
The issue of Santa Claus and the Toothfairy is an interesting dilemma for a skeptic. However, I'm no less a skeptic now for having believed in both of these fictions (and Jesus too) as a child. In many ways, I believe my critical thinking skills have been strengthened as a result of overcoming these beliefs. We have to be careful that we're not trying to raise our kids by insulating them from views and beliefs that contradict our own. Santa Claus is so much fun -- my 4 and 6 year old both believe in him. I know that this is a fleeting belief, however, and I plan to use the "discovery" that Santa isn't real as a springboard for other skeptical inquiries. I have no doubt that my 6 year old daughter will reason it out sooner than later, and I plan to praise her for it. The bigger problem, for me, will be explaining the difference between Santa Claus and a lie. Anyone have some advice on that one?
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written by Kuroyume, April 06, 2009
Although not the greatest movie of all time (or even close), "Galaxy Quest" was a treatise on how fantasy or 'make believe' could be interpreted as reality by those unaccomstomed to such things. In this case, a real set of aliens intercepts the TV transmissions of a long-cancelled science fiction TV show (we won't go into specifics about how that is possible, but..) which they think to be real records of the adventures of the starship NSEA Protector. When it is finally revealed to the aliens that the ship was not real (only a model) and the crew were only actors, they equate the fiction with lying.

The point here is that humans seem to be wired for 'make believe' and fantasy. Some think that this propensity is part of what makes us unique and sentient in the long evolution of life on this planet and why we have achieved so many things (tool use, domestication (of fire, plants, animals), agriculture, invention, science). Children have pretend 'tea parties' and brave battles with sticks or dolls. So, there is your answer. There is a spectrum between outright deception and harmless fantasization.

Santa Claus is 'make believe' and not lying as long as the fantasy isn't sustained beyond acceptable reason. The problem here is whether or not children actually understand that he is a fictitious character or come to realize it as they develope or when they are told the bad news. My feeling is that it depends upon how much the idea that such a character is real is drilled into them and for how long (indoctrination). I consider religion to be one fantasy where the continuous 'validation' of its supposed reality by adults causes children to accept it as such into adulthood - at least until some choose otherwise by improved mental facilities. A lie is when you continue to backup some falsity knowing otherwise. A fantasy is when you realize the falsity in a way that does not have ramifications. Fantasization is pleasurably and knowingly lying to yourself and others. Compulsive fantasization is delusion. Deceptive fantasization is fabrication.
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written by macgyver, April 06, 2009
Unfortunately that distinction might be a bit more difficult to explain to a child. At the moment, there is what is "true" and what is "false". If Santa is true today, but found to be false tomorrow then somebody was lying. The difference will later be understood as the child matures, but I'm more concerned that there's a mixed message in the interim. However, I think you've given me a useful approach -- I'll frame Santa as the same thing as a "made up" story; that it was a game of "pretend" for the whole family. My daughter probably will enjoy a period of time where she can also maintain the fantasy for her little brother and feel like she's one of the grownups.
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"Natural" Treatments
written by StarTrekLivz, April 06, 2009
Leeches, purging, and induced vomiting were regarded as "natural" remedies. With the possible exception of the treating ingesting poison by induced vomiting, I don't think I would want to try any of these "natural" remedies.
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As for Santa Claus .....
written by StarTrekLivz, April 06, 2009
When my older nephew was a child, he was in a state of panic, with tears and insomnia, because as frequently happens in Detroit, we had a Christmas without snow, and he was worried that Santa's sleigh could not land on his parents' roof without the snow. The fact that their house had no fireplace and the only "chimney" went to the gas forced-air furnace & hot water heater did not distress him. He figured out on his own that his parents and family were the real source of the Christmas bounty, and appropriately transferred his gratitude from a mythical figure to his family & friends.

He is now a married adult with a degree in electrical engineering, and we old folks remind him of his puerile terrors as part of an annual ritual. He outgrew belief in Santa, and it does not seem to have done him any harm, and we certainly enjoy retelling the story ....
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Some clarity is in order here.
written by Skeptigirl, April 06, 2009
First, Harry Potter & Santa vs educational cartoons: These are different things and a distraction from the issue here.

Fantasy is fantasy. Kids may enjoy the time they believe in fantasies and adults may enjoy indulging in temporary escape into the fantasy world, but the healthy brain does not confuse fantasy with reality. Kids outgrow the fantasy stage and there is no evidence that make believe Santas or Harry Potter stories are harmful experiences. If you are going to claim these childhood experiences are harmful, then you need evidence, not some hypothetical concern kids are traumatized by "being lied to" as some skeptics claim.

Harry Potter and Santa fantasies differ distinctly from educational programs that use cartoon characters or children's programming to send educational messages or promotional messages with no or at least questionable educational benefit to children. This is the kind of programming the Curious George cartoon is about that Dr Hall is describing here. When the fantasy stage of brain development ends, most kids are plenty smart enough to know which cartoon "lessons" depicted the real world and which were stories from the fantasy world.

The debate about other fantasy messages in children's programming is a sidetrack and needless distraction to the important issue Dr Hall has brought to our attention.

The problem is much bigger than simply promoting bad medicine in children's programming. PBS has increasingly been promoting bad medicine in adult and children's programming.

In addition to the non-evidence supported self help gurus that we see more and more frequently on PBS (cheap programming responsible perhaps?) the producers of infomercials have discovered the PBS telethon promotion as a means of getting very inexpensive daytime advertising infomercial hours. Apparently by offering free books and CDs they normally hawk at 2 am, these infomercial producers instead offer their come-on products as 'gifts' to people who donate to PBS. So for an hour you can listen to the infomercial interspersed with breaks in between where the PBS staff tell, you can take advantage of the wonderful 'discovery' you've just been hearing for free if you donate at various 'levels' to PBS. The free products offered are, in typical infomercial format, only come-on introductory products that encourage you to buy more.

I was disgusted to see PBS staff getting scammed themselves by the infomercial crowd resulting in PBS (inadvertently I assume/hope) promoting snake oil.

So it is no surprise to see the snake oil community that perceives itself as evidence based, (as opposed to the infomercial crowd who surely know they are scamming people), has also discovered a sympathetic ear in the anti-establishment sentiment of 'independent' public broadcasters. It's a fine line for some people not as skilled in critical thinking as the skeptic community generally is, to recognize the difference between a Frontline program exposing some medical fraud committed by the 'established' medical community and an 'alternative' to science based medicine that is not in its 'alternative' position because of the power of the 'established' medical community. This is what needs addressing. The Curious George cartoon in a symptom of a much bigger problem.

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written by deavman, April 07, 2009
The correct link:
http://everydayskeptics.com/ps...cartoons/

I am surprised no-one mentioned the misspelled link......
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written by deavman, April 07, 2009
URL Correction
http://everydayskeptics.com/ps...-cartoons/
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written by JeffWagg, April 07, 2009
Fixed the link. I swear it worked before.
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written by deavman, April 07, 2009
Fixed the link. I swear it worked before

You swear? Still, I am skeptic..... smilies/grin.gif
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written by knitwit, April 07, 2009
I always hated the Man With The Yellow Hat for kidnaping George and then blowing smoke in his face. I used the books to teach my son about habitat, endangered species and the dangers of second-hand smoke. I have no problem with fantasies such as Santa because he does no harm. My children all gave him up on their own by the time they were 6 or 8 years old. That's not the same as an adult "believing" in homeopathy.

One important thing about all the woo turning up on PBS. It isn't PBS, per se, that puts these infomercials on--actually each local station is independent and can put on whatever they want. Apparently it has gotten around that these things "sell". The PBS Ombudsman (see PBS.org) has written about this begging people not to blame the network. Personally, it's just another reason I killed my television years ago. Yes, I do see tv now and then at other people's houses, etc., but I don't miss it one bit at home. I have Netflix and watch Comedy Central and such on the computer.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 07, 2009
Knitwit: The PBS Ombudsman (see PBS.org) has written about this begging people not to blame the network.
I have called in to the phone bank and complained every time I've seen the blatant infomercials on the telethons. I encourage others to do the same.

But PBS certainly has responsibility for all the self help gurus they promote like Deepak Chopra who claims things like, positive thinking fixes all your troubles.

Here are 2 examples of Chopra's quotes (http://thinkexist.com/quotes/deepak_chopra/):
“Whatever relationships you have attracted in your life at this moment, are precisely the ones you need in your life at this moment. There is a hidden meaning behind all events, and this hidden meaning is serving your own evolution.”

“There are no extra pieces in the universe. Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill, and every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”
These are meaningless platitudes.

Chopra identifies himself as a "Indian Ayurvedic Physician". It's India's version of your typical ancient junk medicine.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda

Surely dosing the public with Chopra's feigned wisdom on a regular basis is not solely a local programming decision? Or is the Seattle market just lucky to have the option of watching this particular infomercial on a weekly basis?

Educational programs exposing the public to things like Ayurvedic 'medicine' are important. And it may be tricky to produce such a program exposing the nonsense without offending a culture. And if the program were identified as cultural information rather than a self-help infomercial, it would be legit in that format. I recently saw Chopra vs the Christians on CSPAN. But putting Chopra on in a format which provides false legitimacy to his practice is harmful if you value fostering critical thinking skills in the public at large.

There is great value in convincing PBS that it's mission is not simply to provide access for alternative programming, but rather, to take a more decisive role in promoting critical thinking. PBS's current philosophy is akin to providing the fish. Promoting critical thinking is akin to teaching people to fish.

And what better role for a public broadcasting service than to expose people to thinking critically about the pablum they are continually bombarded with from the overwhelming volume of commercial broadcasting and other media sources? PBS programs like Frontline and Independent Lens go a long way toward that goal. Promoting 'alternative medicine' gives the appearance of offering another point of view. But the essence of that point of view is promoting snake oil and platitudes. A legitimate philosophy or 'medicine' should be able to demonstrate success that is greater than placebo. Without that evidence, Homeopathy and Ayurvedic 'medicine' should not be given legitimacy through PBS any more than snake oil should.

I think the producers at PBS, local and national alike, need a bit of education about alternative medicine. Chances are the decision makers are themselves unaware these alternative medicine practices are useless fakes.
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written by bosshog, April 07, 2009
Re "Herc":
I note that not one person posted even an obligatory protest against the idea of "banning" things we don't like.
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written by The Apostate, April 07, 2009
My son (then 7 or so) and I noted the naturopathy segment awhile back. I was initially very annoyed, which led to my son questioning me about the segment. As we had it captured on Tivo we were able to watch it repeatedly, picking it apart word by word. Ultimately it was an excellent teaching moment, though perhaps not in the way that the segment's producers had in mind. Now when my son watches the show with his younger sister he is able to start start forming questions and arguments on his own. Thanks PBS!
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written by José, April 07, 2009
I have to say, I hate both Harry Potter and Curious George. Curious George teaches teaches that no matter how irresponsible you are or how bad you mess things up, everything will turn up roses in the end, and Harry Potter teaches that poor sportsmanship and cheating are good solutions to life's tougher problems.
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written by tmac57, April 08, 2009
Maybe the live segment is meant to be an introduction to Naturopathy for kids interested in going to Harvard Medical School http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=438 .Thanks to Dr Atwood for the eye opening series.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 08, 2009
written by tmac57, April 08, 2009
Maybe the live segment is meant to be an introduction to Naturopathy for kids interested in going to Harvard Medical School http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=438 .Thanks to Dr Atwood for the eye opening series.
30 years ago it was trendy to include supposed "complementary" medicine in nursing programs. The idea was to accept the patient's cultural self and not be judgmental. And the argument was, these patients were using the stuff anyway, better to make the patient feel safe telling you about whatever they were using in case it didn't mix with something being prescribed.

The trend grew and more and more believers became convinced the stuff works, (after all it's 'ancient wisdom' and/or it's 'natural'). That led to all these claims there was research backing the efficacy. Naturopaths and the like seem to think if one study might possibly confirm one treatment, that equates to evidence backing the whole field.

It's no wonder that after 30 years of persistent creeping into legitimate domains of medical science there are health care providers who haven't taken the time to look into evidence behind the claims of these alternatives to scientific evidence based medicine.

We have to get louder and more visible calling promoters of sCAM to pony up with the evidence or to stop pretending any science actually supports their claims.

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written by Skeptigirl, April 08, 2009
written by bosshog, April 07, 2009
I note that not one person posted even an obligatory protest against the idea of "banning" things we don't like.
So you would allow the selling of snake oil in the name of free speech? Unfortunately that belief is echoed by the FDA and FTC to some extent when they allow deceitful misleading claims as long as actual direct false claims are avoided. It's OK to trick people into thinking a product such as "Headon" is claiming to be a treatment for headache as long as you don't actually say so on the label or in an ad.

It's also the sentiment of people who see promoting bad medicine such as 'complementary' treatments which do nothing and sometimes harm people as a 'rights' issue. This goes as far as WA State (my state) passing a law requiring medical insurers to cover these worthless treatments simply on the basis people believe in them.

Free speech does not give you the right to scream "fire" in a crowded movie theater when there is no fire. And you don't have the 'right' to defraud people in most other situations. But when it comes to believing in worthless medical remedies or advertising worthless medical remedies using deceptive wording or images, this type of fraud is seen differently than the person who tricks you into investing in a Ponzi scheme or some other fraud.

We could avoid the free speech issue if we had a little more visibility in exposing the lack of evidence behind bad medicine. A lot of physicians and other health care providers need some serious educating about the lack of evidence supporting sCAM. And I still say PBS has a mandate to teach critical thinking skills to children just as much as it has a mandate to allow alternative viewpoints to be aired.

This is not about culture and alternative beliefs. For that aspect, a program on medical cultural practices is reasonable to see on PBS. This is about the mistaken belief there is a scientific basis for bad medicine and the promotion of that false fact to young kids.
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The Good Side of PBS
written by JasonPatterson, April 09, 2009
While I certainly don't condone the presence of this silliness on Curious George (and I'm amazed that it is, actually, as many of the newer episodes tend to be much more educationally focused than the originals) I also have to commend PBS for presenting some of the best science and rational thinking programming for children that is out there. Sid the Science Kid is simply great; I cannot recommend it highly enough. It teaches kids how to ask questions, test them, and frame logical arguments from their findings. Additionally, my kids love to watch it. (The Zula Patrol is fairly good as well, though it involves science as taught and done by aliens...)

With the possible exception of a few of the cable channels (the Science Channel, National Geographic Channel, and perhaps Discovery, though they have been slipping lately), PBS is the primary platform for science on television. It would be nice if they were more consistent, but they are still far better by far than the other broadcasters out there.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 10, 2009
It's good to remember as JasonP. points out, PBS is not all bad. We shouldn't forget the carrots when they are good just along with the sticks when they are bad.
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written by Skeptigirl, April 10, 2009
Errata: delete "just" in the above sentence.
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