From Abracadabra to Zombies
The Skeptic's Dictionary Newsletter
Volume 13 No. 4
“All models are wrong, but some are useful.” --George Box
The Critical Thinker's Dictionary: I've been contacted by the assistant Editor-in-Chief of Xinhua Publishing House based in Beijing about translating and publishing the book. If all goes well, there will be a Chinese edition of The Critical Thinker's Dictionary sometime in 2015.
Skeptimedia: Acupuncture & What They Don't Teach in Medical School (another poorly designed study compares acupuncture and pain pills).
Reader comments: psychic cons.
Updates: the following articles have been updated: backfire effect, supplements: glucosamine ineffective for knee pain, climate change deniers, shamanism, organic food & cancer, integrative medicine, and the cafe chiropractor takes on the thyroid.
Why I Won't Vaccinate My Kids
A Family Court judge in Australia recently ruled on a case involving a mother who does not want her kids (a 14-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl) vaccinated and a father who does. The couple are divorced and the father says he went along with the mother's non-vaccination wishes while they were married, but now that the children are in his custody he asked that the judge lift an order that was handed down by a court during the divorce and custody hearings. The order restrained both parents from vaccinating the children until a three-day hearing into the immunization issue could be held last January. The judge ruled that the father has a right to have the children vaccinated.
In his ruling, the judge said that the mother had submitted hundreds of documents about the risks of vaccination, including an alleged link to autism, but much of the submitted material, he said, ''is comments, submissions, irrelevancies." The mother also claimed her children were at risk of experiencing ''vaccine damage'' due to various allergies she believes they suffer from.
The father, interestingly enough, doesn't seem to have been motivated by the evidence that vaccines are safe and effective and a necessary part of a citizen's duty when living in a community where health issues are not simply a matter of private concern like one's political ideas or one's religious beliefs. The father became concerned when he realized that his son and daughter were missing out on extra-curricular activities because they were not immunized. He was also concerned that some of his relatives were unwilling to have their children socialize with his children. The father was also worried that his kids would be excluded from school during an outbreak of an infectious disease.
The judge based his ruling, in part, on the testimony of a senior consultant in immunology who testified that both children are healthy and do not have any allergies or any other contraindications to vaccination. The mother had them on "a low-salicylate and low-amine diet" because of her beliefs about their allergies. The consultant testified that the kids had been eating a "normal diet" since living with the father, with no signs of allergic reactions, and she recommended the children be bought up to date with the routine childhood immunizations.
I imagine there are many couples in Australia, the US, Canada, and many other countries where the partners vehemently disagree about vaccinating their children. Why would a parent oppose vaccinating a child?
Many anti-vaccinationist parents are immune to arguments like those put forth in a recent Sacramento Bee editorial: Vaccine refusal puts community at risk for disease outbreaks. These parents see the issue as a matter of privacy: the government has no right to force them to vaccinate their children. The editorial cites bioethicist Arthur Caplan of New York University: “If you infect my newborn or my grandmom because you put your liberty over your duty to help protect the weak and the vulnerable and chose not to get vaccinated then you are responsible for the harm you do and you ought to be liable for it.” Vaccinations, on this view, are about the responsibility each of us has to the larger community. "One unvaccinated child may not get a vaccine-preventable disease. But that child can expose vulnerable populations to serious illness – including infants and individuals who have compromised immune systems. If too many people opt out, the community immunity we take for granted can collapse." For some parents, however, the rights of the individual trump the rights of the community, and though the whole community be put at risk because of the actions of one individual, that individual's right is sacrosanct, inviolable, inalienable.
Some parents believe the right to not vaccinate their children is justified because governments, medical professionals, and pharmaceutical firms cannot be trusted to tell the truth about anything. Of course it is this same government that grants them the right to opt out of vaccination schedules for religious or other "personal" reasons--not quite what you'd expect from a tyrannical government. And it is this same medical profession and pharmaceutical network that provides the treatments that make it possible for many of us to live longer lives that are less painful and more fulfilling than would be possible if our diseases, disabilities, and disorders were left untreated.
In the Sacramento area, two-thirds of the parents of kindergartners at Gateway Community Charter schools, which serve primarily Russians and other Slavic immigrants, opted out of vaccinations for their children. It is not hard to understand mistrusting government in all things if you were raised in the USSR, or in something like Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany, or modern North Korea. But as many times as our government has lied about things, as many times as pharmaceutical firms have concealed the truth about the efficacy of their drugs, and as many times as the misdeeds of a medical professional have been reported, these things do not justify a blanket denial of everything involving government, medical professionals, and pharmaceutical firms (let's refer to these as the GMP). Admittedly, the duplicity of the GMP on many occasions makes the citizen's job that much more difficult to determine when to trust their actions. But the fact that it is difficult to research such things as vaccines does not relieve of us of the obligation we have to our children and our communities to do so. It's not fair to our children or our community to reject anything the GMP says without doing some investigation of our own. It's not like the data on vaccines is hidden from plain view. We may have no way of knowing if our government is lying about what's going on in Afghanistan, but a grade school kid with a computer and access to the Internet can access all the information he or she needs to make an informed decision about vaccines. The problem is not lack of information, but either laziness or the inability to critically evaluate information or the all-too-natural instinct to seek out only information that confirms our biases.
Still, there are some anti-vaccinationist parents who don't distrust everything involving the GMP, but they believe enough doubt has been raised about vaccines that they are justified in erring on the side of not vaccinating because the life and health of their children is involved. Parents and only parents have the right to decide what is good for their children when it comes to health care. If there is the slightest possibility that a vaccine might harm their child, these parents believe they are justified on that count alone in not having their child vaccinated, regardless of the possible ill consequences to the health of others in the community.
According to the Bee editorial, about half the parents who send their kids to Waldorf schools in the Sacramento/Davis area opt out of having them vaccinated. Why? With anti-vaccinationists who send their kids to private schools like Waldorf or who home-school, "a full range of views prevails." Some believe that natural immunity is superior to vaccine-acquired immunity. Others believe that vaccines overload a child’s immune system; and still others say we shouldn’t worry about diseases that have “disappeared” from the United States.
Is natural immunity better than vaccine-acquired immunity? Let's just consider one disease, measles, which was mostly eradicated here but is making a comeback (so far this year, California has had 49 cases of measles, 21 in Orange County and UC Berkeley has recently quarantined two students with measles):
Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in the world—most communicable just before the appearance of its distinctive rash. Children with measles experience fever, followed by cough and runny nose. Then a rash appears, covering their bodies in a matter of days. Prior to licensure of the first measles vaccine in 1963, virtually every person in the U.S. got the measles by age 20—between 3 and 4 million cases occurred every year. Many developed complications – some with permanent damage - and some died.
Measles causes middle ear infections in nearly one out of every 10 children who get it. As many as one out of 20 children with measles gets pneumonia, and about one child in every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (an inflammation of the brain that can lead to convulsions, and can leave a child deaf or mentally retarded).
For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it. Measles can also cause a pregnant woman to have a miscarriage, give birth prematurely, or have a low-birth-weight baby.*
In other words, there was a lot of collateral damage before the measles vaccine, when natural immunity was the only immunity available. (According to the World Health Organization, nearly 800,000 persons died of measles in developing countries in 2001.) For those who survived intact, however, it's probably true that their natural immunity is superior to what they would get from a vaccine.* (One of the UC Berkeley students diagnosed with measles returned to campus by public transportation [BART] after a domestic flight. The measles virus can lurk in a room for up to two hours after an infected person has been there. You do not have to kiss the infected person or hold his hand or be in the direct path of his sneeze to be infected by him. Just walk through the same space he's been through and you may just pick up some of the virus long after he's cleared the area. Janet Berreman, the city of Berkeley's public health officer, urged those who have not yet been immunized to get inoculated. If a person receives a measles shot within 72 hours after exposure, he or she can usually avoid becoming ill.*)
OK, but is it true that vaccines overload a child's immune system? The answer to this question should be relevant to those who opt out because they think natural immunity is superior to vaccine-based immunity. "Vaccines deliver either small amounts of antigen (substances that provoke antibody responses) or genetically weakened germs that multiply more slowly and for a shorter period of time than their disease-producing counterparts. As a result, rather than being exposed to full-blown infections over a 7 to 14 day illness, the body 'sees' just enough antigen to develop protective antibodies. Consider, for example, the hepatitis B vaccine. A hepatitis B infection exposes the body to 1,100 micrograms of antigen per hour for a week; the hepatitis vaccine series provides a total of 30 micrograms.* "Experts estimate that humans can generate about 10 billion different antibodies and that, due to exposures to germs and other foreign material, people make between 1 million and 100 million different antibodies during our lifetime. The vaccine schedule produces a total of about 30 antibodies. It is also estimated that (a) each infant has the theoretical capacity to respond to about 10,000 vaccines at any one time and (b) if the 11 routinely recommended vaccines were administered together, the immune system would need to use only about 0.1% of its capacity to process them.* The evidence really doesn't support the notion that kids are getting too many shots in too short a time. Nature is providing them with hundreds of daily challenges to their immune system, yet most kids don't find their immune systems compromised because of it.
OK, but why should we worry about immunization against diseases that have been eradicated? We don't vaccinate for small pox anymore, so why vaccinate for measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis, and the like? As noted above, measles hasn't been eradicated, even in the US (though it was declared eradicated in the year 2000). Unvaccinated (or even, in some cases, vaccinated) kids travel with their parents to foreign countries where there are even more unvaccinated kids and when they return home they can infect others. Unvaccinated kids and adults from other countries visit the US all the time. They can infect your unvaccinated child either directly or indirectly. Smallpox may have been universally eradicated but many other infectious diseases are still with us. (It is estimated that smallpox killed 300-500 million people between 1914 and 1977. By 1970, smallpox still killed 2 million people annually. The last case was found in Somalia in 1977.)
Even polio hasn't been eradicated. "Polio is a highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades the nervous system, and can cause total paralysis in a matter of hours. The virus enters the body through the mouth and multiplies in the intestine. Initial symptoms are fever, fatigue, headache, vomiting, stiffness in the neck and pain in the limbs. One in 200 infections leads to irreversible paralysis (usually in the legs). Among those paralyzed, 5% to 10% die when their breathing muscles become immobilized."* Fortunately, in the US, polio is a thing of the past, but it may not stay that way. In any case, for those who accept that the rights of the community trump the rights of the individual to do as he pleases with regard to health care, it is not just diseases in the homeland that are of concern. The eradication of measles, polio, etc. worldwide matters.
"It is estimated that 3 million children are saved annually by vaccination, but 2 million still die because they are not immunized. Tetanus, measles, and pertussis [whooping cough] are the main vaccine-preventable killers in the first years of life."* In 2010, a whooping cough outbreak in California sickened 9,120 people, more than in any year since 1947. Ten infants died. Newborns are too young to be vaccinated against pertussis, but they can be protected if those they come in contact with have been vaccinated. In Japan, the vaccination rate for pertussis (whooping cough) dropped 70% from 1974 to 1976. In 1974 there were 393 cases of pertussis and no deaths. In 1976, there were more than 13,000 cases and 41 deaths.*
There are many other reasons parents give for not vaccinating their children. I've covered some of the main ones in other places (see my SD entry on the anti-vaccinationist movement where the claim that vaccines cause autism, among other claims, is reviewed), so I won't review them here. But Jennifer Raff has posted a list of frequent reasons given by parents for not having their kids vaccinated. Some readers might find it interesting.
I'll conclude this review of parents who don't want their kids vaccinated by returning to the editorial in the Bee that I mentioned earlier for one more statistic: 90 percent of kindergartners statewide in California have all the required immunizations. So, most parents don't opt out of the requirement for schoolchildren to be vaccinated against a set of communicable diseases. Most parents in our state do not share the fears and beliefs of the anti-vaccinationists. For the health of us all, let's keep it that way and let's hope that anti-vaccinationism will be eradicated one day along with polio, measles, pertussis, and other communicable diseases.
Fact-checking Letters to the Editor: you're on your own
I admit that I skim the letters-to-the-editor section of the Sacramento Bee each morning. If a header entices me, I read the letter. Recently, I've read letters dealing with climate change, fructose, and dowsing. The latter was written to validate an article the Bee had run about how some big-name wine-grape growers have used dowsers in the Napa valley for many years. One of the big names even dowses himself. Did I write a letter explaining why dowsing seems to work and why even educated people can be duped if they lack a little knowledge, don't research the subject, and aren't very good critical thinkers? Not at all. The letter would be too long and it wouldn't get published, or it would get published with all the reasons I presented taken out, leaving me to state my opinions bare naked. I once tried an experiment of writing a two-sentence letter, one sentence stating my opinion and the other giving my reason for the opinion.Only one sentence was published. I guess that's why it's called the Opinion page and not the Reasoning page. Anyway, what irritates me even more about the letters editor is that he (I know; it could be a she or a committee of hes and shes) lets outrageous claims be published without comment. In the case of the dowser defending dowsing the following claims were printed:
I use two pieces of thin welding rod held by a small bend, about four inches, slightly tilted down in front of you. As you walk, slowly, the rods will align with any steel pipe or water filled pipe below the ground. You must cross the hidden pipe at nearly right angles. So make several passes in different directions. Why does this occur? The earth has a magnetic field. We know that steel or iron will be attracted to magnetic fields. Therefore, it should be a given that steel pipes would easily be found. Plastic does not attract magnetism. But water also seems to concentrate magnetic lines of force from the earth. Thus, they can be found. You can do it.
Water seems to concentrate magnetic lines of force from the earth. Right. And where did that little gem come from? Who knows, but it is up to other readers to do the fact checking. You might even send a correction to the Bee, explaining why water concentrates wherever there is a barrier and according to the law of gravity. You might also point out that the attraction between a welding rod and a steel pipe buried a few feet beneath the ground is too slight for either to affect the other, but you'd be wasting your time. Mention the ideomotor effect and your letter will go straight to the trash bin.
Anyway, if I ran a letters page for a newspaper, I wouldn't let readers get away with such claims. I'd print their letter and then proceed to point out all factual errors and implausible claims. Of course, if anyone did so, nobody would write letters to the editor, which would be just fine with me.
The climate change deniers are another group of know-nothings who get their opinions published for free by the Bee on a rather regular basis, which makes me wonder if this isn't some sort of backhanded editorial effort to defend the deniers. Or, it could be a backhanded effort to make the deniers look foolish. Anyway, here's one denier's letter. (I wasted my time responding to this one; my letter wasn't published.)
Climate change is a pseudo-science and has developed into an industry in which adherents profit by receiving government grants to study and manipulate data to promote their nefarious scheme. The oceans have an infinite capacity to absorb carbon dioxide, an alleged greenhouse gas. The absorbed gas lends itself to increased seashell production like that seen in the White Cliffs of Dover.
Since 1980, the American Meteorological Society has tracked 102 different climate model projections; projections from models built by climate scientists eager to demonstrate catastrophic warming, using data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. Richard McNider and John Christy, professors of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and fellows of the American Meteorological Society, say those models have been "consistently and spectacularly wrong." Between 1980 and today, the disparity between real world and modeled climatology has grown, meaning, the models were bad science at the start, yielded bad results and have only gotten farther from reality with their predictions. McNider and Christy say, "The modelers insist that they are unlucky because natural temperature variability is masking the real warming." What? Call me in one hundred million years with valid data.
The oceans have an infinite capacity to absorb carbon dioxide. Right, and climatologists are pseudoscientists with a nefarious scheme. Anyway, this letter was a rip-off of a Wall Street Journal hit piece by McNider and Christy, who are considered flagrant cherry pickers and outliers by reputable scientists. "The most recent IPCC report found that, while variations exist on the scale of 10-15 years, over the long term models closely reproduce observed trends for both surface and upper ocean temperatures. The State of the Climate report also notes the observed long-term cooling of the stratosphere, just as climate models predict (and a result that only occurs when human influence is incorporated into the models of the Earth's climate)."
Finally, there was this letter telling the readers of the Bee that:
More than 70 percent of health care costs go to treat "metabolic syndrome," chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes. Science has proven that the massive increase in fructose in our food supply is the main cause of MS.... A simple fructose tax collected as the poison enters the food chain would go into a fund to pay for metabolic syndrome. Health premiums should drop by 70 percent.
Science has proven that the massive increase in fructose in our food supply is the main cause of metabolic syndrome. No need to provide any references because all we want is your opinion, even if it is a creation of your imagination or something you heard from Dr. Oz or read in Natural News or Joe Mercola's newsletter. Let's be clear: ingesting too much sugar is not healthy and many Americans ingest too much sugar. The issue here is the exaggerated distinction between glucose and fructose and the claim that science has proven that fructose is the main cause of metabolic syndrome. Diet certainly plays a large role in the development of such things as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and high blood sugar. Genetics and age also play a role. The evidence that fructose in the diet is the main cause of any of these conditions in general is not there. Sure, there are some people who ingest an excessive amount of sugar, both glucose and fructose, that has been a major factor in their obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. But there are other factors that are also important.
Nobody knows what effect a massive reduction in fructose in our diets would have on heath premiums, but I'd bet the house that the reduction will not be 70%.
"Many scientific articles and news reports have noted that since 1980, obesity rates have climbed at a rate remarkably similar to that of high-fructose corn syrup consumption."* Never mind, that correlation does not imply causality. The link has been made in the public's mind, though there is no scientific data to support it. Had there never been any high fructose corn sugar (HFCS), the obesity epidemic would probably be just as it is, given the availability of other sugars that can be added to soft drinks, candies, snack foods, processed foods, and the like. Anyway, fructose seems to have entered the heads of many people as the main cause of the obesity epidemic because of the name and stories about high fructose corn syrup." The name is used to distinguish it from regular corn syrup, which has no fructose in it. HFCS has about equal amounts of glucose and fructose. Cane sugar and beet sugar are pure sucrose. When digested, sucrose breaks down into equal parts glucose and fructose. Anyone who thinks that using sugar is healthier than using HFCS because it's natural isn't thinking. Your body can't tell the difference and neither is a healthy choice.
One of the myths about cancer listed on the Mayo Clinic website is that people with cancer shouldn't eat sugar, since it can cause cancer to grow faster.
Fact: Sugar doesn't make cancer grow faster. All cells, including cancer cells, depend on blood sugar (glucose) for energy. But giving more sugar to cancer cells doesn't speed their growth. Likewise, depriving cancer cells of sugar doesn't slow their growth. This misconception may be based in part on a misunderstanding of positron emission tomography (PET) scans, which use a small amount of radioactive tracer — typically a form of glucose. All tissues in your body absorb some of this tracer, but tissues that are using more energy — including cancer cells — absorb greater amounts. For this reason, some people have concluded that cancer cells grow faster on sugar. But this isn't true.
Another myth about sugar reveals a common misbelief of many people that what happens in a petri dish will also happen in a human body. High fructose corn syrup does not cause pancreatic cancer, despite what you may have read on Joe Mercola's health misinformation site. Cancer cells eat sugars of all kinds. In one study, pancreatic cancer cells in a petri dish grew well on both fructose and glucose. "The difference lay in how efficiently the cells were able use the sugary fuel." But as Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, notes: We have treatments that can cure pancreatic cancer in the petri dish. "We've had that for more than 50 years. But they don't work on pancreatic cancer in humans. That tells me there's a difference, biologically, between cancer cells in a petri dish and cancer cells in a person and we have to respect that."
It's not only on the editorial pages that we are left on our own to do the fact checking and sense-making out of claims made. In today's Bee (3/30/2014) there is an article about the increasing number of unvaccinated children entering our public schools because of parental fears about vaccines. The article mentioned the Canary Party, a group opposed to requiring children to be vaccinated, and quoted from a video on its website: “dozens of published research papers show that YES, vaccines and autism are linked. In the last 30 years, the childhood vaccine schedule has tripled – while the U.S. autism rate has skyrocketed.” It's up to the reader to know that these claims deserve a shoulder shrug and a "so what?" response. Lots of things have increased dramatically over the past 30 years, autism has been redefined several times over those years, and there are many studies that have shown beyond a reasonable doubt that there is no connection between vaccines and autism.
I'll conclude this ode to fact checking with mention of a letter writer who said vaccinations are harmful because people who get vaccinated have a higher cancer rate than those who don't get vaccinated. Hmm. Maybe that's because the vaccinated live longer.
What do you call someone whose favorite sources for health-related information are the Internet, celebrities, and celebrity doctors like Dr. Oz? Hint: these are the same people who prefer organic food and take regular vitamin and herbal supplements. Another hint: they believe cell phones cause cancer, vaccines cause autism, and that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is deliberately keeping natural cures for cancer off the market because of pressure from drug companies. Call them "mainstream Americans." They're not stupid and they care as much about their own health and the health of their children as do those who favor medical journals and science-based medical doctors for their information. They're not conspiracy mongers, but they have little trust in big business, big medicine, big Pharma, and big government.
Mainstream Americans don't believe the scientists who tell them that fluoridation of public water systems is a healthy choice or that vaccines are safe and an essential public health and safety measure. In a poll of adult Americans conducted by Eric Oliver, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, 12% said they believed that the CIA deliberately infected African-Americans with HIV, that genetically modified foods are a conspiracy to reduce population worldwide, and that companies use water fluoridation to cover up pollution. These folks are clearly outside of the mainstream, but 50% of Americans believe one or more medical conspiracy theories. Oliver et al. polled 1,351 people online in August and September. The findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine. According to the authors, "the survey results were weighted to provide a representative sample of the population and have the same degree of accuracy as in-person or telephone surveys."*
To satisfy the curiosity of those inquiring minds who think our political beliefs are the key to whether we can be trusted, the authors tell us that "the pro-conspiracy people came from across the political spectrum, with 35 percent saying they were liberal, compared with 41 percent saying they were conservative."*
Oliver explains mainstream Americans' beliefs that conflict with consensus science and often go against their own self-interest as due to the world being a complicated place and conspiracy theories being intuitively compelling in making sense out of a messy world. I agree that the world is complicated and that the data is overwhelming and contradictory. Many people find the notion that vaccines cause autism compelling because their intuition tells them that since the autism happened after the child received vaccine shots, the vaccine caused the autism. Most educated people know, however, that just because one thing happened after another it is not necessarily the case that the first thing caused the second. Even so, knowing about the post hoc fallacy isn't enough to resist the natural urge to blame the autism on the vaccine. Most educated people also know about confirmation bias, the tendency to look for evidence to support our beliefs while ignoring evidence against them. Again, knowing about this bias isn't enough to overcome the natural urge to be attracted to newspaper articles, television programs, and celebrity testimonials that promote the idea of a causal connection between vaccines and autism. The stories of other parents who are convinced that their child's autism was caused by a vaccine are not seen as anecdotes or as communal reinforcement, but as compelling proof that their intuition is right. Most people are not going to read the scientific studies on vaccines and autism. Many mainstream Americans are not going to believe those who tell them that the studies have not found any link between vaccines and autism.
Yes, the world is a complicated place and so is the brain that it trying to decide what to believe. Our brain has evolved to follow certain natural tendencies that work well enough most of the time, but for complex causal issues our brain is better served by following the methods developed over the past few centuries by scientists thinking logically. Rather than follow the instinct to confirm a belief, we should do the unnatural thing and try to disconfirm or falsify the belief. Proper randomized, control group studies are designed to mitigate the influence of our natural biases. While we cannot teach people to trust scientists, we can teach people how to read scientific studies. We are probably not going to persuade many people to not trust Jenny McCarthy on health issues or Dr. Oz on his claims about miracle diets or anti-aging foods and creams, but we might convince some people to be more mistrustful of themselves. How? By encouraging them to learn how the brain works. Anyway, that was my hope in putting together The Critical Thinker's Dictionary: Biases, Fallacies, and Illusions and what you can do about them. I priced the eBook at $3.99 to make it affordable to libraries and students (many of whom are being gouged by publishers who charge more than $100 for a critical thinking text book). I still have some free copies of The Critical Thinker's Dictionary audiobook from Audible.com to give away. If interested, send an email to skepdic338 at gmail.com.
I wonder what mainstream Americans would think if they'd been born in India where only 1 in 24 healthcare workers is qualified in modern medicine or if they'd been born in Liberia where there are about 50 practicing physicians for a population of 3.7 million. Other parts of the world are even worse off: the only alternative is what we call 'alternative' medicine but for them the natural cures of the shaman are all they have.
Protecting the Enlightened One
I recently received an email from someone identifying himself or herself as Santosh, the webmaster of www.trivedieffect.com, complaining about "some unnatural links and content on your site against Mr. Mahendra Trivedi on your site: skepdic.com/trivedieffect.html and we want to remove this post from your site." I should have replied: "Be my guest. Remove it at your pleasure." I didn't. I asked Santosh to identify the "unnatural links." I got a reply that addressed me as "Respected sir," which is innocuous enough, but I was not amused by the request that I remove all the links or the post. The post is not about Mr. Trivedi, but about the trivedi effect which is the name of a registered trademark owned by its creator, Mahendra Kumar Trivedi, who is called Guru Ji and is considered an enlightened master by thousands of people. I explain in the post that "I will use the letters TE to refer to the powerful energy allegedly denoted by the registered trademark. I do this to prevent annoying emails threatening me with lawsuits or evil rays from one of the guru's minions. Although there are so many lawsuits pending against Trivedi, his foundation, his CEO, and his legal advisor from former minions claiming to have been abused emotionally and sexually by the enlightened one, that I am probably being overly cautious." I carefully avoid saying anything directly about Mr. Trivedi, except to state facts such as "the guru has set up a non-profit foundation." Trivedi claims to have a power that allows him to change the molecular structure of anything just by using his thoughts. I never call him a liar or a fraud, but simply report what he says and what others say about him. This apparently upset Santosh. In my last response to his latest request that I remove the post, I wrote:
I must disappoint you. The article lets my readers know what the trivedi effect is and what people, including Mr. Trivedi, have to say about it. The links to critical comments are part of journalistic completeness. In America we enjoy freedom of speech and freedom of the press. We can't libel or slander others, or blaspheme in some states, but we may make our own critical comments and link to the critical comments of others, even if it displeases the one being commented on. I myself have been subjected to much ridicule and verbal abuse on the Internet, but that is the price I pay for being a public figure of sorts. People are free to accuse me of many false things and to depict me as a shill for pharmaceutical firms or some political party, but that is the price we pay for the freedom to think and express our ideas freely. In fact, I believe it is a good thing to be criticized. We can then defend ourselves, if we feel like it, and perhaps we will develop better arguments because of it. We may even change our mind sometimes and realize that we were wrong and someone else who we've been criticizing is actually right. You and Mr. Trivedi should thank me for my article and my links. They can make you stronger if you know how to properly respond to them.