Counterknowledge over and under the counter

Last time I introduced Counterknowledge by Damian Thompson and the definition of the title of the book. Basically, counterknowledge is the network of fake news and facts that people wind up convinced are true.

This time around, I’m hitting some highlights out of the book from a medical angle.

Like, church officials in Africa not bothering to contradict the idea that condoms cause AIDS. In fact, they actually believed it. In Mozambique:

Archbishop Chimoio told our reporter that abstention, not condoms, was the best way to fight HIV/Aids.

“Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose,” he alleged, refusing to name the countries.

“They want to finish with the African people. This is the programme. They want to colonise until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century’s time.”

Aids activists in the country have been shocked by the archbishop’s comments.

It can’t help that Mozambique boasts a Catholic membership of 17.5% of the population.

Thompson discusses the prevalence of quackery in the field of “alternative medicine.” In an era as advanced as we’re living in, people are still getting fooled by hucksters out to make a quick buck. The Quackometer is a good source for information about alternative health peddlers and the junk they’re promoting.

Like, detox foot baths:

Another marketer (Mobile Beauty) further explains that “the system draws toxins out through the soles of the feet” and that the “water changes color due to the release of toxic substances through the 2000 pores of the soles of the feet.” It’s treatment sessions typically cost £15 to £30. The company’s Web site states that “You’ll see the excreted toxins in the water. The water will change color and consistency—from orange, brown through to black.” Yellow is said to come from the kidneys and bladder; orange/brown from the joints; green/dark brown to black from the liver, gall bladder and/or bowel; and white from the lymphatic system. Grease or fat particles may float on top of the water. According to the company, the process can be used to improve liver and kidney function; circulation; general metabolism; arthritis and joint pain; headaches; fatigue; irritability; menstrual pain; skin problems; mercury and heavy metal toxicity; food allergies, and poor digestion

Of course, it’s all a bunch of hooey designed for people who don’t understand basic science. Like, how oxidation happens.

Thompson touches on the science of placebos and how they trick the brain into believing a pill has some medicinal value. For an example, Thompson uses the difference between what Viagra promises vs what makers of rhino pills claim.

Poachers risk bullets, handcuffs and steep fines for the profits from rhinoceros horns, tiger penises or the eggs of endangered sea turtles, all wrongly believed to enhance male sexual performance or desire.

It’s time for a new approach. Let’s turn people on to drugs. How do you say “Viagra” in Chinese? Would making Viagra, Levitra, Cialis or other pharmaceutical alternatives affordable around the world cause the demand for animal-based aphrodisiacs or sexual remedies to falter?

The alternative is grim. Many of the endangered animals targeted by poachers are “charismatic megafauna” – mammals such as tigers, bears or seals, whose beauty or behavior elicits humans’ sympathy or awe. Other creatures, such as the lowly sea cucumber or the majestic and critically endangered African black rhinoceros, are unlucky enough to have characteristics that strike humans as suggestive.

Scientific research has failed to find any benefit to either sexual desire or performance from the animal products used in these traditional medicines. Hope springs eternal for effective aphrodisiacs – and perpetual motion machines, for that matter – but the only likely value of these animal products stems from a placebo effect.

There’s also a rundown of crazy nutritionist notions that, while not actually causing harm, aren’t really adding much benefit, either. Angela Dowden gets a mention. I’ve never heard of her, but Ben Goldacre, the Bad Science columnist, did and got to wondering about her claims of fruit being nature’s medicine cabinet. A search of 84 articles found no evidence that bilberry extract treats visual fatigue, even though Dowden claimed the extracts “have been shown” to do so.

Dowden checked out Dr. Gillian McKeith, of You Are What You Eat fame, too. After it turned out she wasn’t a doctor, they checked on the unfounded claims about the benefits of chlorophyll, algae, and a bunch of other natural faux-remedies for what might possibly ail someone.

McKeith gained celebrity status with books and television and magazines, but what happens when you start as a celebrity and become an “expert” on a subject apparently overnight? Jenny McCarthy got her start in Playboy and now tells everyone all over the world that vaccines cause autism and that she cured her toddler of that neurological dysfunction through diet and preaches to her fans about how great her ideas are. What does Quackwatch say about that?

Some parents of children with autism believe that there is a link between measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. However, there is no sensible reason to believe that any vaccine can cause autism or any kind of behavioral disorder. Typically, symptoms of autism are first noted by parents as their child begins to have difficulty with delays in speaking after age one. MMR vaccine is first given to children at 12-15 months of age. Since this is also an age when autism commonly becomes apparent, it is not surprising that autism follows MMR immunization in some cases. However, by far the most logical explanation is coincidence, not cause-and-effect.

If measles vaccine or any other vaccine causes autism, it would have to be a very rare occurrence, because millions of children have received vaccines without ill health effects.

In 2002, Danish researchers studied this assumption and found no basis in fact for it.

The latest research suggests that the disorder begins in the womb–long before any vaccines are given. There is also intriguing evidence of abnormalities in the immune system. But there is no evidence that the MMR vaccine causes autism.

But that doesn’t stop Jenny McCarthy.

Next time around, I’ll write about another aspect of counterknowledge that which runs counter to reason.

I’m saving the best for last.

About 1minionsopinion

Canadian Atheist Basically ordinary Library employee Avid book lover Ditto for movies Wanna-be writer Procrastinator
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2 Responses to Counterknowledge over and under the counter

  1. would you class BARRY LONG as a counterknowleger?

  2. 1minionsopinion says:

    Which one, the divine sex book writer or the film critic? I had to Google the name so I don’t think I can answer one way or the other about that. Reviews on the author’s work make it look like they’ve all gotten something useful out of it, improved relationships or whatever. Some comment writers at have little to say in a positive light, though.

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