Sunday, February 21, 2010

Curing Our Ails!

I am currently in the midst of a semester in which I am "teaching" a course called Psychology of Paranormal Beliefs every Monday evening. Well, we missed one and a half evenings so far due to the weather.

Anyway, it is probably the sixth or seventh time I've taught the class, and I can honestly say I haven't been too thrilled with the way any of them have gone so far. I keep trying new things and ditching old things, and so-few things end up filtering through to be used again next time. But maybe by the 25th teaching I will get the hang of it.

So, what is my "problem" with the course? I wonder about that each time I teach it. I think it has something to do with the above photo. It is a photo of a product (ok, two products, a liquid and a pill) sold in a large-chain supermarket mixed in willy-nilly with an entire bank of cold/flu medicinals. It is expensive... but not seemingly more so than neighboring products. So what's the big deal? Unfortunately, the image may be a bit small and maybe a bit too blurry to identify the TYPE of product it is. On the left, it is described as "homeopathic cough syrup" while on the right, it is described as a "homeopathic medicine".

One of these is certainly a more accurate description than the other. Briefly, the idea of homeopathic "medicine" is that cures require exposure to extremely dilute quantities of substances that mimic the symptoms of whatever it is you want fixed. Indeed, where our traditional medicinal experience is that MORE medicine means MORE of an effect, with homeopathic "medicine" it is the opposite. Yes, the LESS of the critical substance, the MORE of an effect it has. So, roughly, the above pictured "medicines" contain not even a single molecule of the critical substance that is supposed to be helpful. Yes indeed, it must be some mighty powerful stuff!

Oh, want to know what the "critical substance" is that was diluted OUT of the product altogether? It's basically extract of duck liver and heart. Sound kinda like a gross thing to ingest when ill? Again, no big deal since there ISN'T any to be found in the product! So what does between $6.79 and $11.99 buy you? Well, as I said above, the description on the left is more accurate. The only ingredients you will find in THAT one is sucrose, lactose, honey, and water. Yes, in other words, you would be spending more than six bucks on a four-ounce shot of sugar-water! Not thirsty? Well then please feel free to purchase the "medicine" version which comes out to about two bucks a sugar-pill-dosage.

It really bothers me to think that people are throwing away their money on this crap - some knowingly, but SURELY many do so UNKNOWINGLY. If you want to believe that sugar water "remembers" that some duck-liver molecules brushed up against them in the past and will therefore CURE (or in ANY way TREAT) your illness, then FINE! Spend your foolish money! But because this garbage is stuck in the middle of all the other VERY WELL PROVEN treatments, people are going to pick up the box in their stuffy-nosed bleary-eyed quest for relief, see the outrageous CLAIMS on the box, ASSUME they are rigorously and scientifically proven, and throw away their money.

Please, would ALL of the folks who ever end up reading this (if any do), the folks who have a spare $12 that they can discard without a care, PLEASE just send it to me? Actually, just send me half! How's that? Does ANYONE really feel that they can piffle away cash... ever?!

When I have taught the class in the past, I have tried to maintain control over my biases because I really didn't want my students to feel that I was just PUSHING my bias down their eyes and ears. So by the end of the semester, I guess I just wondered if any of the messages really got through. I probably feel that they didn't because stupidity continues to reign in this world. It seems worse every day. Maybe it's always been this bad - but I am only sensitized to it the more I learn about it? Who knows. THIS semester, though, I think I will try being a little more assertive with my "biases" (but I will happily identify them as such when I do - for now).

For those of you who might be offended by my apparent lack of "open-mindedness" let me be blunt: Too f-ing bad! I challenge YOU to demonstrate YOUR open-mindedness! I will gladly accept the homeopathic claims when the testing of and resulting evidence is as good as that supporting scientifically based medical cures. What would it take to change YOUR mind? If you cannot imagine any evidence that would change your mind, then it is clearly already a closed mind.