From Abracadabra to Zombies
The Top Ten
Most Harmful Beliefs
For the past few years as part of its annual fundraising efforts, the Skeptics Society led by Michael Shermer has used little fold over mailer booklets with Top Ten lists. This year the focus is on Shermer's list of "the strangest beliefs I've come across in my quarter century as a professional skeptic" with the addenda that the beliefs be not only wrong but have a wide impact on society.
Here's Shermer's list:
- Afterlife & Soul
- End of the World
- 9/11 Conspiracy
- JFK Conspiracy
- Morphic Resonance
- Holocaust Denial
- UFOs visit Earth
- Ancient Aliens
The reader can find a post of Shermer's full descriptions and why these items made the top ten list of strangest beliefs with wide impact at http://wafflesatnoon.com/top-ten-weirdest-things-people-believe/
Here's Bob Carroll's list of The Top Ten Most Harmful Beliefs:
- Jihad/ the caliphate/ Sharia
- Christian evangelism
- Vaccines are harmful and should be avoided
- Climate change is not happening, but if it is then it is not caused by humans and is nothing to worry about
- Anti-GMO beliefs
- Criminal Injustice (profiling, eye witness testimony, polygraph)
- Quack Cancer Treatments
- Energy healing, homeopathy, and naturopathy
- Supplements are essential to a healthy lifestyle
- Self-help programs (LGATP)
#1. Jihad/ the caliphate/ Sharia. The Islamists promoting and engaging in jihad who think some ancient book justifies their setting up a theocracy for the world not only do direct harm with their murders and slaughtering of innocents and destruction of ancient, irreplaceable works of art and architecture, they have, along with Assad and various Islamic rebel groups, displaced millions of people, creating the current inhumane refugee crisis. No current belief is doing more harm to more people than the idea that everyone should live in a theocracy of the sort promoted by the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other zealous Muslims or else they should die.
#2. Christian evangelism. These folks have managed to turn the deprivation and denigration of women's reproductive rights into a noble cause. They've created an atmosphere where fraud is praised as long as it is for the sake of the unborn babies, where someone like Carly Fiorina can play Joan of Arc defending a fake video about mutilating fetuses and lead the charge to destroy Planned Parenthood. We should all be supporting Planned Parenthood and all the other groups that support women's health and well being. We should be opposing all those who want to outlaw birth control and ban love they deem immoral. These evangelical folks turned a county clerk's private beliefs and criminal behavior into a cause célèbre, promoting their arcane ideas about what's a proper marriage and who should be allowed to love whom. Christian evangelism is a scourge and a lock-step emotional whirlwind of theocratic fascism that all political parties should be glad to be rid of.
#3. Vaccines are harmful. The anti-vaccination folks also play the martyr card and think of their destructive work as noble. Meanwhile, diseases we thought were eradicated are affecting people all over the world. Infants die of whooping cough, measles epidemics start in amusement parks, etc., thanks to the widespread misinformation of these misguided folks who think of themselves as children's advocates and defenders of freedom of choice. In my state of California, however, the picture is not so bleak. A poll done by the Public Policy Institute of California last May found that "87 percent of the state’s adults viewed vaccines as safe and roughly two-thirds felt children should be kept out of public school if they aren’t vaccinated."*
#4. Climate change deniers. We will only know the extent of the damage done by these folks in the decades to come, but their efforts to thwart any action until near certainty can be achieved about climate change and its effects on our planet are guaranteed to cause more harm than good.
#5. Anti-GMO beliefs. The resistance to GMOs not only harms those whose work will benefit billions of people around the globe, it encourages irrational faith in organic foods as well as irrational fear of the unknown to the point of wilful ignorance about farming, genetics, and population growth. Willie Nelson and Neil Young: you are not heroes in this arena.
#6. Criminal Injustice. There are several reasons innocent people are found guilty and the guilty go free in our criminal justice system, reasons that have nothing to do with errors, mistakes, incompetence, lack of evidence, or systemic injustices. Several beliefs and practices commonly employed by law enforcement and thought to be valid ways to catch the bad guy and lock him up are guaranteed to bring about more injustice than justice.
FBI profiles are based on the assumption that there is a pattern where in fact there is none. The assumption is that facts about the crime will match up with facts about the criminal. The assumption has little basis in reality.
The polygraph measures such things as heartbeat, blood pressure, and respiration. The polygraph is not a lie detector because changes in heartbeat, blood pressure, and respiration can be caused by many things. Nervousness, anger, sadness, embarrassment, and fear can all be causal factors in altering one's heart rate, blood pressure, or respiration rate. Having to go to the bathroom can also be causative. There are also a number of medical conditions such as colds, headaches, constipation, or neurological and muscular problems that can cause the physiological changes measured by the polygraph. The claim that an expert can tell when the changes are due to a lie and when they are due to other factors has never been proven. Why do so many people, in and out of law enforcement, believe the polygraph is a lie detector? For the same reason that many believe that profiling is accurate, that their daily horoscope is right on, that their tarot card reader is clairvoyant, that John Edward gets messages from the dead, and that graphology can reveal the true character of a person: the belief is rooted in cold reading and subjective validation, and grows in soil fertilized with a lot of confirmation bias and communal reinforcement.
Eyewitness testimony is the least reliable but most influential form of evidence. Mistakes in eyewitness testimony account for 72% of wrongful convictions. You might assume that confession is the most reliable form of evidence, but anyone with more than a passing relationship with our legal system understands the role of coercion in extorting confessions.
#7. Quack Cancer Treatments. The enemies of science-based oncology and promoters of quack cancer treatments deserve a special place in Dante's ninth circle. The world would be much better off without the likes of Mike Adams, Webster Kehr, Joe Mercola, Ty Bollinger, Brian Clement and the like. The number of these questionable cures keeps growing, as their advocates keep crowing.
#8. Energy healing, homeopathy, and naturopathy. Not only do these placebo medicines not cure anybody of anything by their magical energy manipulation, memory or water, or mystical natural frequencies and vibrations, they encourage irrational thought about health and well being to the detriment of us all.
#9. Supplements are essential to a healthy lifestyle. No they're not. There is scant evidence that everybody needs supplements to be healthy. People with specific deficiencies benefit from supplements. The rest of us are just taking happy pills, pills that do nothing specific but make us feel good when we take them [new] if they don't harm us. The supplement industry is largely self-regulated and many of its products don't contain the ingredients that their labels say they do. This may explain why the best scientific studies of supplements have found no health benefits and some harm from the daily use of supplements. See Frontline's exposé, "Supplements and Safety," transcript or film, which aired on January 19, 2016. See also the lame response of the The American Botanical Council, echoed by the Society for Integrative Medicine, to the New York attorney general's investigation of supplements: "relying on DNA barcoding technology alone to validate botanicals is premature." If DNA barcoding is 'premature,' then why did GNC, the largest of the supplement retailers, agreed to use DNA barcoding to authenticate its products?)[/new]
10. Self-help programs (LGATP). These programs claim to help people but too often they are fronts for abuse of all sorts: financial, psychological, and sexual.