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Posts Tagged ‘pseudoscience

“Treat persons who profess to be able to cure disease as you treat fortune tellers”*…

 

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Miracle cures, detox cleanses, and vaccine denial may seem to be the products of Hollywood and the social media age, but the truth is that medical pseudoscience has been a cultural touchstone in the U.S. since nearly its founding. At the dawn of the 19th century, when medical journals were still written almost entirely in Latin and only a handful of medical schools existed in the country, the populist fervor that animated the Revolutionary War came to the clinic. And while there was no shortage of cranks peddling phony medicine on a raft of dubious conspiracy theories in the early 1800s, none was more successful and celebrated than Samuel Thomson.

Portraying himself as an illiterate pig farmer (he was neither), Thomson barnstormed the Northeast telling rapt audiences things they wanted to hear: that “natural” remedies were superior to toxic “chemical” drugs; that all disease had a single cause, despite its many manifestations; that intuition and divine providence had guided him to botanical panaceas; that corrupt medical elites, blinded by class condescension and education, were persecuting him, a humble, ordinary man, because of the threat his ideas and discoveries posed to their profits.

For decades, Thomson peddled his dubious system of alternative medicine to Americans by playing to their cultural, political, and religious identities. Two centuries later, the era of Thomsonian medicine isn’t just a historical curiosity; it continues to provide a playbook for grifters and dissembling politicians peddling pseudoscientific solutions to everything from cancer to Covid-19…

The cautionary tale of a dubious early-19th century system of herbal medicine that became a blueprint for cranks peddling cures to whatever frightens us: “The 19th Century Roots of Modern Medical Denialism.”

Pair with: “Our Health Is in Danger. Wellness Wants to Fill the Void.

[Image above: source]

* George Bernard Shaw

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As we heal ourselves, we might spare a thought for Rachel Carson; she died on this date in 1964.  A biologist and pioneering environmentalist, her book The Silent Spring— a study of the long-term dangers of pesticide use– challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, and called for a change in the way humankind relates to the natural world.

The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.
– Rachel Carson

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“Pseudoscience often relies on a witches’ brew of scientific terms… half-baked into simplistic metaphors that do not correspond with testable reality”*…

 

A new wine delivery service called Vinome is promising to deliver “the ultimate personalized wine experience” — customized to your DNA.

There isn’t much (or, really, any) science to back it up. But it’s got a very big name in its corner. Vinome just inked a deal with a startup called Helix, which in turn is backed by the world’s biggest DNA sequencing company, the powerhouse known as Illumina. For the past 15 years, Illumina has been selling machines that can quickly decode the human genome. Medical researchers around the world use them. But the company wants to conquer the consumer market, too. That’s why it spent $100 million to launch Helix, which teams up with app developers who can find creative ways to use a customer’s genetic data. Such as selling them wine.

For about $65 per bottle, Vinome promises to pick out “great wines that are perfectly paired to you” based on an analysis of 10 genetic variants in your DNA, collected via saliva samples. The company — which is based, of course, in Northern California’s wine country — even incorporated the distinctive double helix of DNA into its logo of a corkscrew.

Medical geneticist Dr. Jim Evans isn’t impressed.  “It’s just completely silly. Their motto of ‘A little science and a lot of fun’ would be more accurately put as ‘No science and a lot of fun,’” said Evans, who’s a professor and researcher at the University of North Carolina. “I’d put this in the same category as DNA matching to find your soulmate,” he said. “We just simply don’t know enough about the genetics of taste to do this on any accurate basis.”…

For more, pop the cork at: “Fruity with a hint of double helix: A startup claims to tailor wine to your DNA.”

And for more on the larger phenomenon of which Vinome is a part, see “‘Personalized nutrition’ isn’t going to solve our diet problems.”

[Image above sourced here]

K. Lee Lerner

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As we ponder personalization, we might recall that today is International Merlot Day.  As Wine Cellar Insider observes

When asked for the most widely planted grape in Bordeaux , many wine lovers would say Cabernet Sauvignon. That is not the case. There are more hectares devoted to Merlot than any other grape in Bordeaux. To give you an idea on how much Merlot is planted in Bordeaux, close to 62% of all vines in Bordeaux are Merlot taking up about 69,138 hectares. Cabernet Sauvignon is a distant second with about 25% of the region’s planting’s totaling close to 28,347 hectares.

Merlot is not only popular in Bordeaux. In fact, it’s the most widely planted grape in France! Merlot is also successfully planted in Switzerland, Australia, Argentina and numerous other countries, as well as in America…

 

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Written by LW

November 7, 2016 at 1:01 am

Ye shall know them by the bumps on their heads…

 

In 1902, L.A. Vaught published Vaught’s Practical Character Reader.  Writing at the beginning of a revival of interest in phrenology (which originally flourished in the early 19th century; was discredited; then rose again, encouraged by theories emerging at the turn of the 20th century in evolution, criminology, and anthropology), the author explains in his preface…

The purpose of this book is to acquaint all with the elements of human nature and enable them to read these elements in all men, women and children in all countries. At least fifty thousand careful examinations have been made to prove the truthfulness of the nature and location of these elements. More than a million observations have been made to confirm the examinations. Therefore, it is given the world to be depended upon. Taken in its entirety it is absolutely reliable. Its facts can be completely demonstrated by all who will take the unprejudiced pains to do so. It is ready for use. It is practical. Use it.

Via the wonderful Public Domain Review.  Full text and illustrations available at The Internet Archive, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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As we consume the “applied” findings of modern neuroscience with more than one grain of salt, we might pause to recall Pierre Jean George Cabanis; he died on this date in 1808.  Trained as a physician, Cabanis concentrated on physiology, on which he became something of an authority– and of which, something of a philosopher.  He is remembered as the French Enlightenment’s most ardent Materialists, as exemplified in his Rapports du physique et du moral de l’homme (1802; “Relations of the Physical and the Moral in Man”), which undertook to explain the whole of reality, including the psychic, mental, and moral aspects of man, in terms of a mechanistic Materialism.  Building on the thinking of La Mettrie, Cabanis argued that “to have an accurate idea of the operations from which thought results, it is necessary to consider the brain as a special organ designed especially to produce it, as the stomach and the intestines are designed to operate the digestion, (and) the liver to filter bile…”

… And in so doing, Cabanis contributed a few stones to the foundation on which the pseudoscience of phrenology was built.

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Written by LW

May 5, 2013 at 1:01 am

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