Opinion Doesn't Make it Woo, Scientific Evidence Does

I posted some guidelines that should be in everyone's skeptic toolkit; it was a short, simple post with no inflammatory rhetoric involved, nothing autism-specific, no examples of pseudoscience. In short, it was a completely unobjectionable post for anyone interested in how to avoid pseudoscience in general. After all, who in his right mind would be in favor of pseudoscience? Folks who buy into woo don't think it's woo, don't believe its pseudoscientific. They accept the claims without ascertaining the validity of the claim, perhaps because they lack these tools or they prefer to believe in the fantastic.

Well, never fear, you can always count on someone to find the unobjectionable objectionable. Enter Harold Doherty, who posted this:

And when I responded that there was no name calling or drivel in the post, along with the admonishment that hate-filled rants would see his blog removed from the directory I run (feel free to look at the entire comment thread), this was his response:

Well, what is this resistance to scientific evidence that so many people have that they resort to strawmen arguments? Did Doherty argue the guidelines in the post? No. He brought up name-calling, insults, and drivel, of which I'm pretty sure there hasn't been a lot of here at Countering in the last dozen posts or more. I mean, I have no problem with name-calling, nor any problem hurling insults, although I'd quibble with drivel, but hey, drivel is in the eye of the beholder, I'm sure.

Keith Stanovich, in his text How to Think Straight About Psychology, writes that "scientific psychology is threatening to some people." He notes that "science is always a threat to the 'anything-goes' view, because it has a set of strict requirements for determining whether a knowledge claim is to be believed. Anything does not go in science. This ability to rule out false theories and facts accounts for scientific progress."

I don't label things woo or pseudoscience because I disagree with it based on opinion. If I label it woo, I've actually read the pertinent research in that field. It's my job as an instructor of both English and psychology to instruct my students in critical thinking skills, to inform them of the fallacies that people use to falsely support their arguments. In short, it's my job to equip students with bullshit detectors. If I do it well, I don't have to tell them something's woo because I say it is. They know to demand evidence and a valid argument for that claim.

Stanovich paraphrases Scott Lilienfeld's (2005) article on how to distinguish science from pseudoscience in psychology:

"Pseudoscientific claims tend to be characterized by

  • A tendency to invoke ad hoc hypotheses as a means of immunizing claims from falsification
  • An emphasis on confirmation rather than refutation
  • A tendency to place the burden of proof on skeptics, not proponents of claims
  • Excessive reliance on anecdotal and testimonial evidence to substantiate claims
  • Evasion of the scrutiny afforded by peer review
  • Failure to build on existing scientific knowledge (lack of connectivity)"
I don't understand why some people choose to not avail themselves of all the possible tools at hand to best understand how the world works, which therapies are empirically validated and which are not, why anyone would want to put blinders on that would allow them to be taken advantage of by people looking to make a fast and easy buck. I also don't understand how anyone could be against arming our young people with the tools to evaluate claims, make reasoned and informed decisions, and avoid being scammed.


Socrates said...

Do you think he uses the same techniques when he has his lawyers hat on?

Autism Reality NB said...

Your posts on this forum are routinely filled with anything but the guidelines you provide in this comment. They are routinely filled with the insulting terminology you used in the title of this comment woo, quackery etc. You assert that all those who disagree with your opinions do not properly apply scientific guidelines while those who share your opinions do. This forum is anything but a demonstration of scientific method.

My concern for your students, and it is genuine, is that they will embrace your ND ideological view of autism disorders and autism related issues. Your comment dashed off since this morning adds to that concern.

And again, if you have not already done so, feel free to remove my blog from your "autism" directory. No offense will be taken.

KWombles said...


Pseudoscience is not an insult. Neither is calling a treatment quackery. Pseudoscience and quackery (woo for short) are not backed by scientific evidence.

And you aren't backing up your claims with anything substantive. Instead you seem to be venting.

My positions regarding therapies are in line with mainstream, accepted scientific evidence.

Your use of ND in regards to me is entirely inaccurate because you don't mean it the way I use it, and indeed, I don't use ND.

And as the mother of a son who will never achieve independence, who has an accompanying ID, and I daresay who is at least as significantly impacted as your son is, I'm getting very tired of you attempting to misrepresent my position.

I recommend you go read the interview that Autism Mom Rising and I did yesterday. It's both at her site and at Respect For Infinite Diversity.

Your concern for my students is not based on reality, on my positions, nor on how I present information and evidence to them.

I back up my positions on autism on the science at hand. I have no idea what you think this has to do with neurodiversity nor how it represents me.

And again, I've done insults before; I do believe I've referred to you as an asshat in the past. That, Harold, is an insult, and a rather tame one at that; I apologize if you found that inaccurate. I also believe I explained why I used that term.

Pseudoscience and woo are definitions of practices that are not backed up by scientific evidence, not insults. I don't think you can insult inanimate objects. I hope you can see the difference.

As to your blog on the directory, you seemed so upset after your blog was removed last time that you felt the need to tweet about it a couple times while mocking my name. I figured this meant you were terribly disappointed at being removed, and I thought that enough time (rather a time out, one could say) had elapsed without the same sorts of shenanigans that had you removed in the first place, that I reincluded your blog, along with several other individuals' blogs who are either writers or staunch supporters of Age of Autism. If you want it removed, simply ask and I'll remove it. No harm no foul.

KWombles said...

I have to add, I'm worried that in your haste to comment you aren't actually reading what I'm writing. I'm teaching my developmental writing students grammar and logical fallacies, as well as how to write papers. What again does this have to do with autism and how, exactly, is it any of your concern?

You don't see me worrying about your ability to give clients good legal advice despite your tendency to go to various sites and engage in a frenzy of what could be construed as foaming at the mouth. You see, I figure your career and your business are none of my business.

And indeed, my course materials are on the internet and available for all to see. What exactly concerns you about providing students with critical thinking skills again?

Science Mom said...

My concern for your students, and it is genuine, is that they will embrace your ND ideological view of autism disorders and autism related issues. Your comment dashed off since this morning adds to that concern.

As Kim stated, her instruction is in the realm of logical fallacies, not autism. Why do you find this so threatening Harold? I applaud Kim's effort to provide her students with a pragmatic education that will enable them to critically evaluate information. More instructors and directed towards younger ages should be teaching such valuable critical-thinking skills as Kim does.

I can only think that as more people can actually obtain such skills, would see your writings and those you support as the pseudo-scientific prattling that they are. Sound reasoning, methodology and logic can withstand scrutiny; this is a good thing, for most of us anyway.

farmwifetwo said...

I saw on the news last night that the Univ of Ohio is going to do "woo woo" science for autism. Actually, I rolled my eyes and said to Dh "so... think this time they'll actually take children with stomach issues and properly test them"... Doubtful, but one can always hope.


Also, after all the bashing of "urine samples" and autism Stat's Can has a news article on CBC a couple of days ago about how lead levels are down, mercury, BPA?? the plastic coating stuff they've banned here and other chemicals are up in adult and child urine samples... http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/08/16/bpa-bisphenol-levels-urine-contamination.html


Yet, in "autism-land" these kinds are studies/tests... are "bashed" as pseudo-science. Which is why I simply stay out of these battles and wait for the scientists to decide... Truth is, nobody knows for certain and it's amazing how those that say they are "right" have a degree in Google U, just as much as the one's that they claim are wrong.... anyone can google, anyone can read a study, anyone can twist the results and post them on a blog... So... I just ignore them and read the actual reports for myself and make my own decisions.

http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2008/02/12/antibody-study.html And I still think that high bp still had a lot to do with it... Maybe one day I'll get that MRI I want done too.... if I'm willing to travel to the USA and pay for it so that's doubtful...

Sirenity said...

I love your posts Kim! I always learn something here-and I love that your words often make me take a deeper look at my own self. Growth feels so good doesn't it?

I do understant WHY many people choose to not use critical thinking, to reject facts for ... well... quackery.

Quackery gives us a feeling of control over our situation. Have cancer?? no sweat! Just take our magic cure!
Unlike a doctor that is likely to quote statistics and unbendable facts (80% chance of a 10 year survival rate).
We can feel superior to those pesky doctors, feel like we more enlightened, more intelligent-heck more POWERFUL than the average joe by breaking with convention...
and using our magical powers to fix, cure, heal the unfixable, uncurable and unhealable.

Sometimes I am a bit jealous. It seems so much easier to just say
"I just know!!" and believe in the magic water that cures asthma (for example) than it is to deal with reality.

spectrum times said...

I just want to say that there was no threat written by Kim what so ever,no matter how much science is involved those with a predetermined opinion (especially of the "curebie" or antivax kind) will never get the fingers out of there ears. I support you Kim Harold if you don't like it you don't have to read it or be here either. If you don't like something move on...I am a proud member of the Autism spectrum...Parents should listen more to those on the spectrum.

kathleen said...

Comment number two states "Your posts on this forum are routinely filled with anything but the guidelines you provide in this comment." I would honestly like examples of this..i.e. which post and where?
In an earlier post, many of the comments ought to be re-read. For they prove exactly WHY critical thinking is so very important.

Roger Kulp said...

"A time out".I love it.

KWombles said...

Thank you all for your comments. :-)

FW2, I'm thinking you're confusing pseudoscience from flawed science and preliminary science. And what woo woo is.

The urine sample study wasn't bashed as pseudoscience but as a poorly designed and controlled study and the media for it as hype.

Studies on GI issues aren't woo. Promoting the opiate theory of casein and gluten as a cause of autism after it's been debunked would be pseudoscientific. Pushing facilitated communication would be, too. Once they are debunked theories, to follow them is to ignore scientific evidence.