One question I am asked virtually every time I am interviewed about the purveyors of dubious health products is – is this person sincere? Do they believe their own sales pitch, or are they a heartless con artist? While this is a fascinating question, the answer is, I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter.
I cannot read people’s minds (I know, you’re shocked), and so there is no way to know for sure how much someone believes their own BS. I suspect that most people who sell pseudoscience are somewhere in between true believer and con artist. They believe their own claims to some degree, and may be convinced by the placebo effect of their customers. They also know they are cutting corners, not being entirely candid about the evidence, and are contorting logic as necessary.
Thomas Croke built the Croke-Patterson Mansion in Denver in 1891. Over the years it has been home to many different residents, as well as a doctor’s office, a dance studio, a radio station, an apartment complex and a bed & breakfast, while it remained unoccupied for many years. As an historical “castle” with a colorful past, the Croke-Patterson has a haunted reputation. At great expense, the house was recently purchased by architect Brian Higgins and converted into a boutique hotel renamed the Patterson Historic Inn, although he’s not so interested in history.
Recently, we received an email at the JREF asking us to help promote The Castle Project, Higgins’ new documentary about the Croke-Patterson Mansion. This begins with skeptics Matthew Baxter and Bryan Bonner bemoaning that the Mansion’s fascinating history is overshadowed by its ghostly lore and urban legends. Twisting this message, the filmmaker promises that he will unearth the “true” ghost stories. The Castle Project’s motto is, “Not based in a true story. It is the true story.”
For a moment there that headline might seem like preaching the converse of “The Secret”, the toxically ignorant book promoted by the toxically ignorant Oprah. But this isn’t about the notion that thinking bad – or good – thoughts produces bad or good results. That notion is just plain dumb. (It’s also hateful because it inescapably claims that bad things happen to people because they don’t think good thoughts.)
What I mean by “bad thinking” here however is poor thinking – the inability to think critically, the inability to understand or effectively utilize science and scientific reasoning. And when that kind of bad thinking is in effect, then in fact, very bad things do happen. Not to mention: to good people. And their children.
This was evidenced yet again a few weeks ago when a study published in the journal “Pediatrics” provided further evidence that the 2010 pertussis (whooping cough) outbreak in California was partly the result of increased numbers of parents opting out of vaccinating their children.
From Penn Jillette: "No one outside of my family means more to me than James Randi. It is no exaggeration to say that without Randi there would be no Penn & Teller. It’s also a fact that without Randi there wouldn’t be me the way I am today. It’s not just my career I owe to Randi, but so much of my life, so much of who I am. I asked him to look at the evidence that I’m becoming a bad guy and report on it."
Randi has responded and says a new monster is among us - Penn is BAD!