Archive for January 13th, 2009
I just finished listening to a recent episode of Skepticality where Reed Esau was discussing the “long tail” of skepticism. They were saying how there appears to be few people in the skeptical movement who are active contributors, while most are simple observers. This got me to wondering about the different levels of skeptic activism. No, I am not talking about something akin to a World of Warcraft character levels. Although a level 37 Skeptic does have a nice ring to it. What I am really focusing on is the level of skeptical principles, commitment, and contribution.
I firmly believe that skepticism is the best way to look at the world. Skepticism allows one to “shred off” preconceived notions, magical thinking, and human fallacies leading to a true view of reality. Living strictly through faith or through willful suspension of disbelief does not lead to the betterment of anyone. In fact, as the website, What’s The Harm?, nicely points out, being unskeptical can have dire consequences.
Below I have listed four levels of skepticism as I see them. I don’t want this post to insult anyone, but to hopefully inspire people to try to get to that next level. Society as a whole will benefit.
Level 1 skepticism
The first level of skeptic is someone who believes they are a skeptic, but may still have some unskeptical aspects of themselves that surface from time to time or that they have allowed a special sanctuary from critical evaluation. Maybe they are still holding out on one particular pseudoscience or they believe that anecdotal evidence is equal to a well controlled scientific study. These people will benefit from an examination of logical fallacies and on the basic principles of reliable evidence, but everyone has to start somewhere, right?
Level 2 skepticism
The second level would be someone who is fully skeptical as far as it is humanly possible. They rarely commit logical fallacies and they consistently strive to fact check everything they hear. Maybe they even attend skeptical group meetings. Hopefully they even spread critical thinking skills to their family and friends.
Level 3 skepticism
The third level of skepticism is someone who contributes some particular skill or knowledge base for the betterment of other skeptics and society. Perhaps they run a blog or a podcast, or organize a local meeting of fellow skeptics. Maybe they watch over online discussion forums and comment section in order to vanquish any sign of pseudoscience or unskeptical thought.
Level 4 skepticism
The fourth and final level of skepticism is something that very few skeptics will ever achieve. People at this level are essentially the heroes of the skeptical movement. These are the people that are heads of national skeptical organizations, appear on television shows, and are known outside the skeptical community. These are people like Michael Shermer and James Randi.
Up next: levels of pseudoskepticism
Recently, I came across what could be the silliest product that I have a seen all year.* The product in question is called the stirwand from Quantumagewater.com. The idea is that you take one of these wands, stir your water with it, and presto! magic water! This product promises to make “water taste better, smoother, and seems “wetter” with a slightly thicker consistency.” It also can help you clean better, give your house an energized feel, is great for homeopathics, and is good for your plants and animals. This product is another example of a product that promises to do just about everything under the sun. Always a good sign to be highly skeptical.
The website is replete with pseudoscientific mumbo jumbo that make it appear legitimate. Terms like “quantum phenomenon,” “high-matrix latice,” and “hydration potential” are found throughout the site. It even contains links to “clinical trials” that show the effectiveness of the product. Let’s take a look at some of their specific claims.
The first claim is that the water will be “wetter” after using the stirwand. The problem here is on the definition of wetter. There is a scientific idea of a wetting, which involves the properties of a liquid against a solid surface. It is not clear if this is a good thing or a bad for your body, because pure water is less “wet” than water with chemicals or detergents dissolved in it.
Next, we find that using stirwands will make the water more resistant to bacteria and mold. Forget that they don’t even have a possible mechanism for why this would be. Forget that having bacteria and mold grow in our drinking water is not really an issue for anyone in a civilized nation. Why don’t they have data to prove this benefit?
Another claim is that given a choice, animals will gravitate to the Stirwand water. I guess they suppose that animals have some sort of sixth sense about water quality. All I have to say to that is that a dog will gravitate to another dogs butt before it will go towards a bouquet of flowers.
Let’s forget that these claims are not particularly compelling and ask how do they propose that the stirwand does what it is claimed? Apparently, the matrix inside the plastic stirwand causes the water to accept ”the imprint of the High Matrix minerals within the Stirwands” through the matrix’s “noninvasive resonance.” This imprint then somehow changes the consciousness of the water which then manifests itself in a different form. In other words… magic.
The claimed mechanisms seem ludicrous, but what about those clinical trials that they mentioned? They are completely worthless (even worse than the one skepticpedi found). Actually, the trials are worse than worthless, because they give the impression of legitimacy to the stirwands. Here is a short list of the obvious problems from their most recent “clinical trial.”
- No control group – they did not even include a group of people that did not use stirwands. Without this control group, it is impossible to tell what if any beneficts come from the tested product
- Only 50 participants – The more participants, the better the study. With such an easy and harmless product, obtaining more than 50 volunteers shouldn’t be a problem.
- Nobody was blind – The study didn’t even pretend to be scientific. Every participant knew when they were consuming the treated water. Every researcher also knew.
So how much will this stirwand cost you? If you act now, you can get your own pretty plastic stirwand for the low low price of just $79.95! But wait there is more! You can get an 8-piece set for only $549.95! Act now!
*I know its only the second week of the year, but still.