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How I Learnt to Stop Worrying and Hold My Tongue PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Richard Saunders   

Over the years, I have gained a reputation for being cool in the face of utter nonsense. Attending many, many Mind Body Spirit (Wallet) festivals has taught me to keep a straight face, feign ignorance and ask questions.  This approach has given me a valuable insight into the thinking of those we oppose or at least investigate.  It’s hard to underestimate the amount of information peddlers of woo, will gladly tell you when you seem really interested in what they have to say.  My best result was a number of years ago when I managed to have members of the Australian Homeopathic Association Inc tell me at a Parents, Babies & Childrens’ Expo to keep clear of orthodox vaccinations but instead use homeopathy. (See Homeopathy Exposed Again! ) This resulted in Australian Skeptics blowing the whistle on the Australian Homeopathic Association Inc in the press and on radio.  A good outcome for our side.

So, all this time I have resisted, more or less, the temptation to argue or put the case for science as once you start down that road, the defenses go up and you are asked to move along or you are accused of being part of the conspiracy suppressing whatever nonsense is being sold.  Yes, I have let myself slip from time to time, but nothing too major.

However a few weeks ago I did not follow my own advice. Maybe it was because I was suffering the flu, or maybe it was because I had been to one Mind Body Spirit festival too many, but my normal reserve and tactics seemed to leave me.  The straw that broke this skeptic’s back was Urine Therapy. OK, we have heard of stranger things sure, but when one woman told me that one’s own urine could cure AIDS, something in my head went ‘snap’.  I mean it really did.  I could hold my tongue no more and began to ask the woman telling me this drivel how on earth she could say this.  What followed soon turned into a full on argument with me being accused, surprise surprise, of being a) a Doctor and b) of believing everything told to me by infamous ‘Big Pharma’. But the main result of my lack of discipline was to have any hope of finding out more information vanish.  I was told to leave her stand and that was that.

My bad mood continued when I visited a stand selling magical healing patches that one wears on the outside of clothing.  However this time my friend Dr Rachael Dunlop gave me the sort of look that said ‘Don’t you dare’ as she had a turn of playing the role of the interested potential customer.  I took the hint and bit my tongue.  Over the next hour I settled down, found my control and started to ask more polite questions of other woo merchants.

Maybe once in a while I can allow myself the ‘pleasure’ of taking these people to task on the spot, but I know it will not achieve anything other than me getting hot under the collar.  I have no illusions about converting anyone or convincing them of the error of their ways, but at times I really wish I could.  Then again, part of me was glad I did let my defenses down.

So my advice, based on 10 years of experience, if you want to gain information from those selling magical therapies and such like, let them volunteer it.  And to do this, play the part of the polite and interested potential customer. However this skeptic won’t blame you if you cannot help but blow your cover from time to time.

Richard Saunders is a Vice President of Australian Skeptics and producer of The Skeptic Zone Podcast

 

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written by ConTester, July 06, 2009
Occasionally snapping in the face of so much undiluted and unsustainable twaddle is perhaps not such a bad thing after all. If it shocks just one uncritical onlooker in a hundred enough to ask themselves why something like urine therapy should provoke so vigorous a reaction, it may well have been worth it. You’re not going to convert the baloney merchants themselves anyway.
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written by Dooyoowoowoo, July 06, 2009
Never mind losing it with these idiots, I'm still stunned by the belief that your own urine can "cure" AIDS! The clue is in the definition of urine, BODILY WASTE PRODUCTS. Urea is toxic. What next, lowering your carbon footprint by emptying your trash can in your car.
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Richard?
written by Michael K Gray, July 06, 2009
You are an Aussie.
Why didn't you tell them straight-out to "PISS OFF"!
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written by MadScientist, July 06, 2009
@Dooyoowoowoo: Nah, carbon footprint is reduced by planting trees rather than food crops (or orchards for that matter), dying of starvation and thus permanently reducing one's carbon footprint. It can be very effective but I don't see it as a sensible solution.
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written by garyg, July 07, 2009
I suppose the urine drinking derives from ayurveda. I've read of some Indian politicians drinking their own urine, supposedly for health reasons
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written by TS, July 07, 2009
No wonder you lost it, I would have felt like shouting: "Are you guys telling us to drink PISS!".

A calmer person might have suggested to the people in the stand that they could reduce their carbon footprint in a very similar way: Run a hose from their car exhaust into the cabin.
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written by BillyJoe, July 07, 2009
Oh well, there goes another delusion. Underneath, the cool calm and collected Richard Saunders is really a rip raging rhinocerous struggling to strike out and create carnage amongst the Karma.

I'd have liked to have seen that. smilies/grin.gif

BillyJoe

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written by Seantheblogonaut, July 07, 2009
So she wants you to drink your own piss and then gets angry when you demand evidence smilies/shocked.gif smilies/angry.gif
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written by garyg, July 07, 2009
Can coprophagia be far behind? It would certainly remove the more extreme elements from the woo-woo community!
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written by CasaRojo, July 07, 2009
"So my advice, based on 10 years of experience, if you want to gain information from those selling magical therapies and such like, let them volunteer it. "

That's right! Be a good listener. Let 'em talk. They'll dig their own hole. ..... And then rip 'em a new one!!! smilies/grin.gif
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Agree with them. It makes them nuttier.
written by Silver, July 07, 2009
I was at a "healing arts fair" and after I asked some skeptical questions about magnet therapy I was accused of being an "AMA agent." I responded that I am not a doctor, but that I would be proud say so it I were. They quickly went on the attack against me saying I was part of a conspiracy to discredit natural medicine.
Feeling I had nothing to loose by being sarcastic I told them that indeed I was a member of the Illunianati and the Trilaterral Commission. They took what was intended as a joke very seriously and launched into talk about 9/11 conspiracies and other clap trap.
It can be difficult to keep a straight face at these fairs, but with a little practice you can make yourself appear to be an interested potential customer and ask questions that serve to expose their nonsense to other people.
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Can coprophagia be far behind?
written by Kuroyume, July 07, 2009
Trying to be somewhat delicate about it, there are those who do this for 'pleasure', of the erotic kind. Rather disgusting imho. Urine, not great, but not horrible. Although urine contains urea it is a more or less sterile fluid. Feces, on the other hand, can contain diseases, bacteria, and parasites. Bon apetit! (yuck).

This sounds totally awesome. Can you think of a better way to 1) exhibit the absolute inanity of these woo-woos and 2) a quick means to be rid of them? Poo cures woo - but we'll call it "Poo cures AIDS and Cancer". (Yes, I'm being feces-tious). smilies/wink.gif
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written by ladolphus, July 07, 2009
I remember reading somewhere that urine is actually sterile than usually imagined (didn't P&T do something on BS about this, or butts, or toilets?). Not that drinking it still healthy.
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written by Fry, July 07, 2009
Keeping quiet does have its uses but like most things can be a bad thing if done in extremes. I tend to stay pretty quiet when confronted with BS in public because I don’t think I am going to change anyone’s opinion and am easily sidetracked. The problem with this is I have been too quiet and my debating skills have gone rusty and I take many bits of knowledge and logic for granted. IE: “What do you mean you have never heard of the law of large numbers!?” Also when I don’t expose my thoughts I lose out on the benefits of legitimate criticism from others or where I should tidy up my wording in an argument. Granted it would be hard to get much useful criticism out of lady telling you drink your own piss (hey at least it wasn’t her urine) as a cure for AIDS but keeping quiet isn’t always the best option for a skeptic. I think it all depends on what you are trying to accomplish. I think that is why forums like this are so useful. It is encouraged to give an opinion and there are plenty of like minded people who are more than willing to prove you wrong or point out the flaws in your logic whereas most believers will just try to give you more BS.
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Just enough rope
written by jay.tarnoff, July 07, 2009
It appears that the adage is true: "Give these people enough rope and they will hang themselves". I sympathize with your plight, though. I have been known to fly off the hook when a co-worker begins talking about flower essences, rebirthing, and a slew of other psycho-babble.

Simply asking, 1) Well, what do you mean?, and 2) How do you know that? often enough is a general way of providing the rope…
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Under/over estimate
written by Me, July 07, 2009
"It’s hard to underestimate the amount of information peddlers of woo, will gladly tell you [...]"

Nit-pick: I assume you meant overestimate. If it's hard to underestimate you are implying that the amount is smaller than imagined/estimated.
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written by DrMatt, July 07, 2009
...for the purity of our bodily fluids...
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Over- or Under-?
written by ConTester, July 07, 2009
Nit-pick: I assume you meant overestimate.
No: it should indeed be “underestimate” because it’s actually a subtle dig at homoeopaths… smilies/tongue.gif
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question about injecting poo
written by jer, July 07, 2009
On a somewhat related question, has anyone here heard of the practice of injecting a person with their own feces? Some of my family unfortunately visits a doctor who performs this along with other CAM wackiness. I've wanted to look into it, but I haven't been able to find it without the name of the procedure. If anybody knows the name or any info, I would be interested to hear it.

I heard two things about the procedure: one, that they filter the toxic parts out of it, and two that they dilute it. The second option seems more likely and leads me to believe that it is a homeopathic procedure that involves no actual feces entering the bloodstream. I would ask my family directly, but those involved with this doctor know what I think of CAM, so I can't play the part of the interested observer.
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There's None So Blind...
written by FrankH, July 07, 2009
...as those who will not see.

There you were, suffering from flu, surrounded by a cornucopia of magic potions, any one of which could have restored you to the rudest of health. But you were too proud. smilies/sad.gif

smilies/wink.gif
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written by Otara, July 07, 2009
Well done sir.

Im a great believer in the idea that the best defense is simply to make people give a detailed account of their ideas. In their entirety their ludicrousness often becomes far more obvious, they share the really whacky stuff that would otherwise be unspoken and it reduces any sympathy factor that can occur with direct attack.

Unfortunately its a lot harder to do in practise. Perhaps because we're not always good at keeping entirely rational ourselves in these kinds of situations?
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written by Willy K, July 07, 2009
So Richard, now that you've calmed down a little.....

Next time you see that woman, don't worry she's so delusional she probably won't remember you, tell her hows AIDS is transmitted to those trying to prevent it and ask her to personally demonstrate her "cure."

Let her convince herself that she is in danger of being infected, pile on the woo, watch her back off her claims. smilies/wink.gif
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question about injecting poo
written by franco, July 07, 2009
...on a somewhat related question, has anyone here heard of the practice of injecting a person with their own feces? Some of my family unfortunately visits a doctor who performs this along with other CAM wackiness. I've wanted to look into it, but I haven't been able to find it without the name of the procedure. If anybody knows the name or any info, I would be interested to hear it.

Mark A Crislip mentioned this on his quackcast episode 16 on probiotics
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Where's the money?
written by AndyD, July 07, 2009
Thanks for this Richard. I enjoy these sorts of articles more than the somewhat repetitive "this woo is nonsense" type posts.

BUT - how does one make a living telling people to drink their own urine? Does she sell cups?
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written by Arts Myth, July 08, 2009
Urine therapy, of all the "alternative medicines," certainly deserves to have the piss taken out of it. I doubt I'd have the courage to do it myself, though, as I've got a long yellow streak.
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re: injecting poo
written by Arts Myth, July 09, 2009
@france: I'm wondering if you might be thinking of this technique? http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=299
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Agreeing with woo for fun
written by Bentspoon, July 09, 2009
I recently visited Sedona AZ. I grew up in Phoenix AZ and used to hike in the Sedona area a lot. The West Fork of Oak Creek is one of the most beautiful hikes. I live in the NW now and visited my brother in Sedona. We went out for a hike on one of the many trails for old time's sake. Now, Sedona and the red rock area has become a big woo area with lay lines and vortices - whatever those are. There are many shops catering to this. They sell such things a dowsing rods. I was ahead of my brother on the way out of one of these hikes and I stopped to rest on a stone bench just up the trail from the parking lot. I saw two women coming up from the parking lot starting out on the hike we were just finishing. One had her arm fixated straight out in front of her. Strange. As they passed I saw a tiny dowsing rod pinched between here thumb and forefinger. They sell those in Sedona. I knew what she was looking for - one of the many vortices in the area. I asked her " 'found one yet?". As she turned to say no, the rod naturally moved in my direction. She got very excited about the indication and said "there must be one right here". I felt the bench with both hands from my sitting position and said, very sincerely, "I think I feel it". We exchanged some excited words and I told her I was coming out the next day with sacred tobacco to see if I could rouse a spirit. Of course, that was not questioned - just the normal thing you would do after finding a vortex. It was fun playing a woo. smilies/grin.gif
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re: injecting poo
written by franco, July 10, 2009
... I'm wondering if you might be thinking of this technique? http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=299

yes that is exactly what I was thinking of - and what Mark Crislip spoke of. I now realise that is not
what @jer was talking of - He seems to be suggesting of a therapy? that is not a transplant between different
people - but one injecting a person with their own (processed) feces?
-no never heard of that one !
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