Obstacles to Critical Thinking

September 17, 2008 at 12:11 am 63 comments

I don’t really mean to, but I find myself debating people a lot. Imagine me as some sort of super geek who pushes her glasses against her nose, raises an index finger, and says “Umm, actually…” in a nasally voice. Except I don’t wear glasses. But it’s a usefully tool of illustration, so just pretend that I do. Anyway, in my many debates, I’ve found that I encounter the same stumbling blocks to critical thinking repeatedly. They’re the same ones that I dealt with during my journey from credulous Christian to skeptic, and they are as follows:

Emotional Thinking

Recently I was debating Chiropractic with an intelligent person. I presented her with evidence against the efficacy of Chiropractic and evidence that neck manipulation can and does cause strokes. I tempered that by saying that Chiropractic has been found to be helpful for certain kinds of lower back injuries, but no more helpful than massage and physical therapy, which don’t put you at risk of a stroke. I could tell she was considering what I had to say, and I was hoping that maybe, if nothing else, she’d think again before she let a Chiropractor twist her neck. She didn’t argue or challenge any of my points, and even admitted they were “interesting” but she told me that she was going to continue to visit her Chiropractor. Why? Because “he’s a close friend of the family and is trusted by us.”

Now I’m sure that her Chiropractor is a good person, and I’d bet with certainty that he’s never caused a stroke, but the fact that someone is a friend doesn’t make them right, and just because a friend is a Chiropractor doesn’t lend Chiropractic any actual validity. That’s emotional thinking. The person I was talking to preferred to put aside valuable evidence and trust a friend. Friends can be mistaken, mislead, and incorrect. Even the ones that we trust. If you want to engage in critical thinking you have to put the emotions you feel toward certain people aside and focus your attention on the facts at hand.

Trusting Authority

This is a tough one, because it’s so easy to do. Even as a skeptic, I find myself granting credulity to certain opinions based on nothing but the authority of their professor. Dr. Steven Novella is one of my favorite humans alive today. He’s a great skeptic and incredibly smart. I find myself wanting to get lazy and support an argument with “Well, because Steven Novella says so.” I have to remind myself that even Steven Novella could get something wrong, and I have to encourage myself to research claims on my own, not just take his word for it, even though he is a skeptic and a personal hero.

I learned that authority doesn’t equate to truth the hard way. After spending 17+ years of my life granting my elders full confidence, I woke up to the shocking reality that I had been lied to over and over again. They weren’t necessarily deliberate lies, but it was a great demonstration of the way that those we trust, those we learn from, those who hold authoritative positions in our life can be utterly wrong.

There are a lot of crappy authority figures out there who have the respect of millions but deserve none of it. Take Oprah, for example. As much as it pains me to admit it, my sister is an Oprah devotee. She’ll try any new health cure or diet strategy that Oprah endorses on her show. Why? Because Oprah says it works! There’s a logical fallacy for that, you know.

Normalization

It seems that the more people we know who do something, or the more often we see or hear about something, the more credibility we lend to it in our minds. This is kind of like that age-old allegory of lemmings running off the edge of a cliff (yeah, I know that’s a myth!), or how your mom used to say “If all of your friends jumped off of a bridge, would you do it too?” It’s called the argument ad populi in technical terms.

I hate to harp on Chiropractic again, but I think this is a great example of the phenomenon of normalization. You can find a Chiropractic office in practically every mini-mall in America. You can probably name a dozen people who you know that visit a Chiropractor regularly. Because of all of this attention, Chiropractic doesn’t seem like the strange pseudoscience that it is. Compare it to acupuncture. They operate on very similar principles (a life-force flowing through the body that can be clogged up), both with a lack of evidence for significant efficacy (i.e. beyond placebo levels), but acupuncture isn’t as normalized. Your average person would consider acupuncture too weird to try.

Always remember that just because something seems normal and popular, that doesn’t make it true.

Not Understanding Memory

Human memory is a strange thing, which most people greatly misunderstand. We like to assume that our minds work like a VCR, that we can rewind the tape and remember everything perfectly, when in reality our memories aren’t so great. We can unconsciously alter, elaborate, and even make up memories.

A really interesting example of the plastic nature of our memories is the case of John Wojtowicz, who attempted to rob a Brooklyn bank in 1972. His story was turned into the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon. Wojtowicz saw the film after it was released and said that it was only 30% true. He wrote a letter to the New York Times outlining the things the movie got wrong. After Wojtowicz was released from prison in 2000, digital artist Pierre Huyghe filmed and interviewed him watching the movie and visiting a film studio bank lobby set. He asked Wojtowicz to give his own account of the robbery, and was surprised to find that his actual memory of the events (subborted by the NYT letter and contemporary news accounts) had blended together with the fictional events of the film. Huyghe titled his video The Third Memory.

Most people trust memory to a great degree. They would be surprised to learn that, according to Wikipedia “eyewitness identification evidence is the leading cause of wrongful conviction in the United States. Of the more than 200 people exonerated by way of DNA evidence in the US, over 75% were wrongfully convicted on the basis of erroneous eyewitness identification evidence.” The rest of this article on eyewitness identification is incredibly interesting and is a great example of the fallibility of evidence based on memory.

Aside from the regular tweaking that occurs to our memories, they can be affected by certain bias. One classic example is confirmation bias, which occurs when we selectively remember what we want to, and forget what we don’t. It’s often characterized as “remembering the hits, forgetting the misses.” I recently fell victim to this bias. I had a theory that the Eastbound bus and the Westbound bus always arrived at an intersection near my house at the same time. My husband didn’t believed me, so I tried to keep track of the mornings that the buses at the same time. At the end of the day he would ask me if the buses came at the same time, and I found that I could only remember noticing if the buses came at the same time on the days when they actually did. Half of the days I said, “Oh, I don’t know. I didn’t notice.” I only took note of the event when it was confirming to my theory.

Not understanding human memory gives anecdotal evidence credibility. If you think that our memories are like cameras, that they reliably record information, then you’re very likely to accept it as truth when your neighbor says she remembers seeing a ghost with her own eyes two weeks ago. Even if you have two neighbors who claim they saw the same ghosts at the same time, the example of Wojtowicz proves to us that two memories can effect each other and blend to form a third memory. The bottom line is that anecdotal information cannot be trusted because our memories aren’t that reliable.

So as I go about the day I try to keep these things in mind:

  • Don’t think with my emotions
  • Don’t trust authority for the sake of authority
  • Just because something is normal doesn’t make it true
  • My memory sucks!
  • The truth is out there! Go and find it!

- orDover

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  • 1. Mike  |  September 17, 2008 at 1:15 am

    orDover,

    I can strongly affirm this article, as long as you are saying that both Theists and Atheists are prone to these obstacles. If you are gonna claim that one has an edge over the other, you have yet to show how that edge is obtained. If that is an article on the horizon, I anxiously await. But again, (assuming we are on the same page) great article.

  • 2. SnugglyBuffalo  |  September 17, 2008 at 4:50 am

    I’m constantly surprised by how accepted Chiropractic is. Even my really skeptical friends think it’s all based on science. Even after I pointed out some of the nonsense it’s based on, I don’t think I really shook their views on it. It wasn’t until I pointed out that the creator of the practice was a phrenologist that they really seemed give it any serious thought.

    Even acupuncture seems to be fairly well-accepted. I would think that’s one that most skeptics reject, but I would actually wager that the “average person” is at best neutral on acupuncture, if they don’t accept it outright.

    I should really collect all the skeptical info on chiropractic and present it all to my friends sometime, I think they’d be surprised.

  • 3. john t.  |  September 17, 2008 at 6:11 am

    Ordover

    Interesting article. Do you work in the health field? Im also curious, do you know the rate of actual strokes caused by manipulation considering the amount of manipulations that are actually done. From my understanding it is extremely low. Not that I agree with regular manipulation, but in some instances it is warranted. LOL. I cant believe Im partially endorsing Chiros. Also from my understanding Acupuncture does have science backing it for many conditions. Though it may have been based on a spiritual idea it does seem to affect the central nervous system. Doctors, Physios, Massage Therapists all use Acupuncture and have very good results from it. By the way I own Wellness and Massage Centre. Not that Im an absolute authority on these matters but In my 17yrs of health care I have seen both the pros and cons of these kinds of treatments. I do understand and agree with the gist of your article though.

  • 4. 1minionsopinion  |  September 17, 2008 at 8:57 am

    On the topic of trusting authority, ever seen the Milgram documentary where he tested people’s willingness to follow orders, even if it meant electrocuting a stranger, possibly to death? Amazing bit of film, that. Completely unethical now, but still a great study.

  • 5. shevaberakhot  |  September 17, 2008 at 9:20 am

    orDover,

    You are not as sceptical as you’d like us to think. Yes, you are one of countless many, who, in their quest for truth, substituted eternal treasures for comfort food.

    With each passing day you increase the separation between yourself and YHWH, who incidentally, you have called by NAME.

    We are assured that all flesh will one day bow before the LORD Almighty, the LORD of hosts.

    My question is this. Why not today?

  • 6. orDover  |  September 17, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Mike,
    I can strongly affirm this article, as long as you are saying that both Theists and Atheists are prone to these obstacles.

    That’s definitely what I’m saying. This article has little to do with religion and much more to do with people in general. I even explain at the end that these are things that I keep in mind myself, as I know we are all very prone to fall into their traps, regardless of religious affiliation.

    john t.,
    There aren’t good numbers on the Chiropractic/Stroke issue, mostly because they aren’t self-reported. It is very low, but the issue is that Chiropractic neck manipulations never do any good, and sometimes do a lot of harm, so there is zero reason to ever have that procedure done.

    Also from my understanding Acupuncture does have science backing it for many conditions

    No, not really. It has a lot of placebo benefit, and that’s it. There have been several large, well conducted studied that turn up negative. For example, studies testing real acupuncture and sham acupuncture (where the needles don’t go in deep enough or placed in the wrong chi locations) yield the same results. Another recent study used needles in a sheath. The practitioner would push a button at the top and the needle would either be released or it wouldn’t, and the patient wouldn’t be able to feel the needle because of the pressure of the sheath. Both the practitioner and the patient were blinded. That study also showed no difference between thinking you have needles stuck in your skin but not having needles stuck in your skin, and having real acupuncture done. That means it’s a placebo effect.

  • 7. john t.  |  September 17, 2008 at 11:38 am

    Ordover

    If it is true what you say about Acupuncture, then why do many, many respected Science based fields use it? Like I said, I know many Physiotherapists, Medical Doctors, Massage Therapists who use Acupuncture and seem to get very good results. Lol, and if its only a Placebo effect, isnt that getting a result too. Shows you how powerful our minds our in the Healing process. I think I can, I think I can ;)

  • 8. LeoPardus  |  September 17, 2008 at 11:39 am

    Yep. These are indeed barriers. The difficulty is getting over them.

    BTW, it’s sort of part of the authority issue, but I think “acculturation” might be another barrier. Some others might be personal experience (or lack of same), lack of training (in a given field or in how to think), and laziness.

    On chiropractic. It’s a messy field. There are benefits and good practitioners. Unfortunately the field is perfused with quacks. Idiots who think they can sure or prevent infectious diseases, heart problems, rainy days, etc. I’ve been going to chiros for decades and I know what good they’ve done me. But whenever I have to find a new chiro, I end up going through 2 or 3 of them to find one who’s worth beans. (And that after looking at their ads that allow me to sort out a lot of quacks.)

    There are studies that have been done. When chiropractic is evaluated for things like “overall health”, it has no benefit. When it is evaluated for benefit in treating spinal pain, it does well. TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Competent chiropractic therapy to relieve pain due to impeded spinal nerves works well. Chiropractic treatment for anything else is a bucket of shit.

  • 9. LeoPardus  |  September 17, 2008 at 11:40 am

    If it is true what you say about Acupuncture, then why do many, many respected Science based fields use it?

    Name one. Note that you’ll have to document it too.

    Lol, and if its only a Placebo effect, isnt that getting a result too.

    Damn! Moron-meter buried the needle again.

  • 10. john t.  |  September 17, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    Leo

    No need to get personal. Im not attacking anyone here, just asking questions.

    At our clinic we have Massage Therapists who take an extensive course for Acupuncture that is offered from the Physiotherapists in Ontario. A well regarded association. I have personal association with several Medical Doctors who do Acupuncture. I have been in the Health Field for over 20yrs and do have some experience with several of the Tx in question. My placebo reference was intended for humour by the way.

    In reference to your trying out several Chiros before you find a good one, heres a joke for you.

    What do you call a Doctor who finishes Last in his or her class…………..Doctor. ;)

  • 11. LeoPardus  |  September 17, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    My placebo reference was intended for humour by the way.

    Sorry then. I missed the humor this time.

    Re your doctor joke…. scary isn’t it? I took one med school class in grad school. Made me never want to get sick or injured.

  • 12. john t.  |  September 17, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Leo

    One thing I have found in regards to the health care system in my area. Its got its fair share of Humans that are as “Whacked” as they come. Just because a person is Intelligent and disciplined enough to do the required training, doesnt mean they are any good. As in any field, you need to shop around to get what you need, and also be prepared to sometimes get something you didnt ask for.

  • 13. john t.  |  September 17, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    Leo

    In regards to the Placebo effect. Dont you think it would be amazing if we could teach people how to consciously access those Healing properties of the human body that they obviously access through the Placebo effect.

  • 14. The Apostate  |  September 17, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    I don’t know about you guys, but the majority of the time that I go in anywhere for medical attention, it is utterly useless. I’m not speaking of major surgeries and serious diagnosis – I haven’t had any and I would fully trust the doctor who would remedy such a problem should I undergo a surgery or face a life-debilitating illness.
    But when I suffered moderate sports injuries or had various minor issues, I am given about 5 minutes attention, prescribed two or three various medications (usually random painkillers or antibiotics) or sent on my way to see a physiotherapist.

    Does anyone else get the feeling that some doctors love to send us off to massage therapists, acupuncturists, and the like simply to get rid of us who suffer from nominal aches and pains? I mean, how much can a doctor really do for your whiplash when maybe all you need is some good ol’ TLC?

  • 15. orDover  |  September 17, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    If it is true what you say about Acupuncture, then why do many, many respected Science based fields use it? Like I said, I know many Physiotherapists, Medical Doctors, Massage Therapists who use Acupuncture and seem to get very good results. Lol, and if its only a Placebo effect, isnt that getting a result too.

    Well, I’m kind with Leo on this one. I don’t think that “many, many” science-based practitioners used acupuncture. But then again, we have to remember, just because someone has an MD, that doesn’t make them great at critical thinking, or skeptically minded. It just means they have a degree. I don’t think every doctor takes the time to read the literature on acupuncture, and they are just as given to confirmation bias and acceptance of anecdotal evidence as the rest of us. For example, recently I’ve been having sever insomnia. It was bad enough that I made an appointment at my university health clinic. The doctor I spoke with was really nice and obviously smart. He suggested I try taking supplemental melatonin, which you can get at any drug store. Being generally skeptical of supplements, but wanting to take the doctor’s advice, I decided to look up melatonin to see if it really helped with sleep issues. It does, but I found out that the doses sold at health food stores are WAY higher than what you need to help you feel drowsy, and can be harmful. It turns out it’s better just to drink some milk rather than take melatonin in pill form. I don’t think my doctor took the time to research melatonin supplements to that degree. He was obviously familiar with some of the findings regarding melatonin, but he was unskeptical of supplements and accepted them based on less than rigorous evidence.

  • 16. orDover  |  September 17, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Does anyone else get the feeling that some doctors love to send us off to massage therapists, acupuncturists, and the like simply to get rid of us who suffer from nominal aches and pains?

    That probably has a grain of truth to it. Treatments like acupuncture “work” best for subjective symptoms such as generalized pain and nausea. There isn’t really anything a doctor can do for those things, especially if they are dull and persistent. If you got in a car accident three years ago and your back still bugs you, you doctor isn’t going to prescribe pain meds or unnecessary surgery. They might suggest something like acupuncture, even if they know it’s bunk, solely for it’s placebo effect.

    I don’t know how fair it is to lump massage therapy and other forms of physical therapy in with acupuncture, because those have real results beyond placebo (although with massage it isn’t really a lasting effect). It certainly would be good advice for a doctor to send someone suffering from persistent pain to a massage therapist or physical therapy.

  • 17. john t.  |  September 17, 2008 at 1:44 pm

    Apostate

    Of course they send you on your way. Doctors are not trained to treat injuries. They are trained to sign a script and prescribe drugs. Thats pretty much it. And as far as massage therapy goes, its more than just TLC(though that is a bonus), it affects your lymphatic, nervous, circulatory systems and obviously your musculo/tendon systems. Hands on are clearly one of the better forms of therapies that we have. I am a little biased :)

  • 18. theavidpenguin  |  September 17, 2008 at 3:42 pm

    Just came across your post- I recently started a new series on basically the same thing.

    Always looking to connect with like minded people!

    http://theavidpenguin.wordpress.com

  • 19. crisitunity  |  September 17, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Terrific outline of not just critical thinking, but independent thinking. Thank you.

  • 20. arensb  |  September 17, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    I find myself wanting to get lazy and support an argument with “Well, because Steven Novella says so.”

    I like to draw a distinction between authorities and experts. What an authority says is true by virtue of that person saying so. Birth control is a sin because the pope says so, and the pope is an authority on (Catholic) sin. The US constitution grants the right to an abortion because the US Supreme Court said so in Roe v. Wade, and the SCOTUS is the authority on what the constitution means.

    In contrast, an expert is someone who has studied the field, and is much more likely to be correct (in that field) than a lay person. When my doctor tells me I have high blood pressure, or when Phil Plait says that the Apollo missions did land on the moon, it isn’t true because they say so. Rather, they have studied those particular fields, and have such a high probability of being right that usually it’s not worth taking the time to argue with them.

    However, it’s perfectly legitimate to question an expert: if Phil says something that I disagree with, I can ask him to back up his statement with evidence. In contrast, if I disagree with something the pope said ex cathædra, there’s nothing I can do about it.

    For that matter, I find it interesting that in general, I think people prefer experts over authorities: Supreme Court justices are expected to present the reasoning that led them to their conclusions, and the Pope is (I think) expected to support his pronouncements with scriptural reasoning. But a Supreme Court decision supported by poor arguments still stands.

    In short, authorities are sources of truth, while experts are time-savers: they’re the ones you turn to when you don’t want to take the time to research a field, and will settle for a pretty good chance (but less than 100%) of the answer being right.

  • 21. silentj  |  September 17, 2008 at 5:44 pm

    arensb,

    While you could view the experts/authority as splitting hairs, I think there’s a lot of validity to that distinction. The time-saving issue is far more critical than we’d like to think.

    The fact is, most of us don’t have the time to research everything that we have to make decisions about. Finding an expert or an expert source (as in a document) about the best we can do in a lot of situations since we don’t have the time to look at actual research to make our own conclusions.

    I think as long as people are thinking critically about their sources (“Does this guy/girl know what (s)he’s talking about? How do I know?”), they’re in pretty good shape.

  • 22. orDover  |  September 17, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    arensb,

    That is indeed a great distinction to be made. Returning to my example of Dr. Novella: I would trust his expertise when in comes to the field of neurology (or even just biology in general) because he is an academic neurologist at Yale. He knows his shit when it comes to medicine. But he also takes on a lot of subjects that he isn’t an expert on, like, for example the 9/11 Conspiracy, physics (topics like Cold Fusion, etc), and the Moon Hoax. Those are things that I don’t want to find myself just taking his word on. I’m tempted to just take his word because I do view him as an authority–he’s skeptically minded, smart, I agree with his world-view and respect his position as an academic scientist. He’s a person that can be both an authority and an expert, and I try to always keep that in mind.

  • 23. xanthippa  |  September 17, 2008 at 6:49 pm

    Interesting.

    I would take this to ‘the next step': teach your children to question everything and everyone (even you!). (Yes, ‘immediate danger’ signal has to be worked out, but I mean in the ‘big’ picture!)

    That is the only way to build in them – from an early age – the ability and the strength to form their own, well-reasoned out conclusions and make good decisions.

    Giving them these tools from the earliest age will help them grow up into well-reasoning adults.

  • 24. orDover  |  September 17, 2008 at 8:40 pm

    xanthippa,

    I agree. I hope that when I have children I teach them to question me. I remember one of the biggest shocks of growing up was realizing that my mom wasn’t always right–and even further, realizing that often she was very, very wrong.

  • 25. john t.  |  September 17, 2008 at 9:05 pm

    Ordover

    When you become a parent I hope you realize that there is using your intellect and having emotional intelligence. One comes from facts and data the other comes from experience. Dont be fooled by a child that has lots of Data.

  • 26. SnugglyBuffalo  |  September 17, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    LeoPardus-

    Unfortunately the field is perfused with quacks. Idiots who think they can sure or prevent infectious diseases, heart problems, rainy days, etc. I’ve been going to chiros for decades and I know what good they’ve done me. But whenever I have to find a new chiro, I end up going through 2 or 3 of them to find one who’s worth beans. (And that after looking at their ads that allow me to sort out a lot of quacks.)

    Well, to be blunt, the entire field was founded by a quack. I would recommend that instead of visiting Chiropractors, you look for an Osteopath. Osteopathy incorporates the same emphasis on the musculoskeletal system, along with manipulations, but they cut out all the garbage inherent in Chiropractic. And, at least in the US, Osteopaths are fully licensed medical physicians. Of course, I recommend you research it yourself first, but I’ve seen U.S. osteopaths (apparently Osteopathy in the US is fairly divergent from what it originally was, and still is in other countries) recommended by more than a few skeptics as an alternative to Chiropractic.

    To summarize: U.S. Osteopathy – the benefits of Chiropractic, without the pseudoscientific nonsense.

  • 27. The Apostate  |  September 17, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    john t.,
    I wasn’t meaning to equate massage therapy or various forms of physio with acupuncture and *ugh* homeopathy. I just believe that sometimes it probably wouldn’t matter to a certified doctor so long as he or she did not have to put up with our belly-aching.

  • 28. Born again Skeptic » Blog Archive » A critical baseline  |  October 25, 2008 at 12:28 am

    [...] some few principles to learn, understand, and then apply.  I read a thoughtful post entitled Obstacles to Critical Thinking, and realized that the items discussed therein would be a great place to [...]

  • 29. allen00se  |  January 7, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    Well written article, and some interesting comments to boot.

    Ordover-
    Would you mind letting us know what your professors thoughts on the moon landing are (i know its a bit off topic, but it seems the comments have all but died). I have heard some about this, but nothing really convincing for the side of the landing being staged.

  • 30. orDover  |  January 7, 2009 at 4:38 pm

    No professor that I have studied under has talked about the moon landing, but one excellent resource is Phil Plait, a NASA astronomer-turned professional blogger known as the Bad Astronomer, who has spend a good deal of his career debunking the moon landing hoax. He has a list, which you can find here linking both to sites containing the claims of those in support of the hoax and rebuttals to them. He also has a detailed rebuttal to a program about the moon hoax which aired on Fox, where he point-by-point deconstructs the claims, which you can find here.

    Like any conspiracy theorist, the supporters of the moon landing hoax are non-experts who basically don’t understand given information, and therefore find it suspicious. It follows the same formula of Creationists/Intelligent Design advocates (“Irreducible complexity!”), 9/11 Truth advocates (“Fire can’t melt steel!”), and even Anti-vaccine advocates (“There’s dangerous chemicals in vaccines!”). Sometimes a little bit of incomplete knowledge can be more dangerous than total ignorance.

  • 31. allen00se  |  January 7, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Sorry, I mistakenly read that it was your professor, I reread and it turns out you were referring to Dr. Novella. Also I thought from the context (him being a conspiracy theorist) that he was actually challenging that the moon landing ever happened. As much as I laugh at some conspiracy theories, like the one that the moon landing was a hoax, I often enjoy reading about or listening to their stories.

  • 32. orDover  |  January 7, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    Dr. Novella is not a conspiracy theorist, but just about the opposite of that, one who looks critically at conspiracies through a lens of critical reasoning and scientific evidence. That’s the trouble with the term “skeptic,” I guess. Someone who thinks the moon landing was a hoax can say, “I’m a moon landing skeptic,” but I was referring to the term in a different sense, where a skeptic is one who only makes evidence-based judgments, and demands proof above all else.

  • 33. Josh  |  January 7, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    “When you become a parent I hope you realize that there is using your intellect and having emotional intelligence. One comes from facts and data the other comes from experience. Dont be fooled by a child that has lots of Data.”

    Okay, no offense, but this sounds fishy to me. The most emotionally unintelligent people I have met are generally also the ones who have the least social data to work with. In other words, they generally have the least experience with other people. Experience with others is social data that leads to emotional intelligence. I don’t think emotional intelligence and intellect can honestly be separated at all. They are both just intelligence dealing with different sets of data in my experience.

  • 34. Josh  |  January 7, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Oh, and btw orDover, this is a really good post :)

  • 35. Slapdash  |  January 8, 2009 at 12:48 am

    I found my first reaction to this article to be one of recoil and defensiveness: I’ve had good results from chiropractic care. I have a history of back problems and in some of my most acute times of pain traditional MD’s have been crap for help, giving me motrin and sending me on my way, with chiropractors being able to ease the acute pain via manipulation & traction within two visits.

    I doubt the author intended to create a direct parallel between chiropractic and religion, but I’d like to make a couple of distinctions anyway.

    With my chiropractic experience, I had directly, tangibly measurable improvements in my range of motion, degree of pain, and mobility within days. This is quite different from the more ephemeral Jesus warm-fuzzies (“I FELT the Spirit move within me”) that pass for evidence of God.

    Also, while I consider myself a fan of chiropractic, I’m not opposed to other kinds of treatment – physical therapy, massage therapy, osteopathic care, what-have-you. In that sense I’m not dogmatic. I suspect there is overlap in the techniques used. I don’t think I’m unusual; in other words I don’t know of very many rabid, dogmatic chiropractic evangelists.

    A couple of last thoughts/questions: first, other commenters have made reference to other mumbo jumbo associated with chiropractic – what is this mumbo jumbo? I don’t think I’ve encountered what sound like “out there” versions of it, or whatever.

    Finally, in the article itself, there’s not a lot of difference between “emotional thinking” and “trusting authority” – at least not in the example used in the emotional thinking section. The person saying “well my friend is a chiropractor” isn’t emotional thinking, it’s shorthand for that person having attributed some level of authority to their friend. It’s shorthand for a thought process that probably looks something like this: “Hey, my friend is a smart guy/gal, went through a lot of schooling, is knowledgeable in lots of other areas, seems to do people some good through chiropractic care, so they’re probably right about this.”

  • 36. orDover  |  January 8, 2009 at 2:34 am

    I found my first reaction to this article to be one of recoil and defensiveness: I’ve had good results from chiropractic care. I have a history of back problems

    As I wrote in the article, “Chiropractic has been found to be helpful for certain kinds of lower back injuries, but no more helpful than massage and physical therapy, which don’t put you at risk of a stroke.” But Chiropractors, including every one I visited when a child (at least three) recommend unnecessary and dangerous neck manipulations as well as “adjustments” for everything from actual muscle pain to the flu or cold. There is direct evidence that Chiropractic helps with some back pain, but NONE that it helps with a cold. Thinking a Chiropractor helps cure your cold is the same as thinking Jesus helps cure your cold when you pray.

    Finally, in the article itself, there’s not a lot of difference between “emotional thinking” and “trusting authority” – at least not in the example used in the emotional thinking section. The person saying “well my friend is a chiropractor” isn’t emotional thinking, it’s shorthand for that person having attributed some level of authority to their friend.

    I’m confused by this last paragraph. Did you think I was advocating trusting authority? Because I wasn’t. I thought that was clear in my first second. You shouldn’t trust authority any more than a decision made because of an emotional attachment. And my original point of the “my friend is a Chiropractor” argument was that the decision, and opinion of whether a friend is smart or competent, it very likely affected by emotional bias.

  • 37. Slapdash  |  January 8, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I was just commenting analytically on your categories; the example you gave I felt fell more into the authority bucket than the emotional thinking bucket.

    I realize you aren’t advocating any of these methodologies; however, in the human condition we can’t analyze every question ourselves and as someone else said we will always be relying on some of these mechanisms just to navigate life. To rely on them at the exclusion of critical thinking is not a good thing, of course. :)

    On a different note, I have definitely heard that neck manipulations can be risky. I asked one chiropractor about it (I did have a neck adjustment once) and he claimed that a lot of non-chiropractors do the adjustment, badly, wrongly, inappropriately. I felt great from the adjustment itself; it’s just a matter of risk tolerance and l stopped getting them.

    Here’s just one more thing I would quibble with: chiropractic care to address a cold currently sounds kooky and not supported, right? But think about ads recently that suggest that proper dental care may help prevent development of diabetes, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease. Sounds like quackery, right? Except the science seems to support that there are links between the seemingly unrelated conditions.

    So I think I’m just surprised at the ire you seem to hold for chirpractic, when I just wouldn’t be surprised for science to eventually uncover links between spinal health and other diseases and illnesses.

    To my mind, that makes chiropractic wholly unlike religious thinking – empirical science can help confirm or disprove the claims. Not true in religious thought, obviously.

  • 38. Slapdash  |  January 8, 2009 at 11:45 am

    orDover I should have prefaced my comments by saying that overall I really liked the article!

  • 39. TitforTat  |  January 8, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Okay, no offense, but this sounds fishy to me(josh)

    Ok Josh i may not have explain what I meant very well. So let me put it in these terms. You can read all you want about Football, stats, positions, teams etc., but until you get tackled, you dont know Football ;)

  • 40. LeoPardus  |  January 8, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    On the chiropractic/stroke connection. Can you provide your peer-reviewed, controlled, comparative studies in reputable research publications to back this? Case studies are OUT. Only studies with fairly large n values and appropriate comparative controls (historic controls are fine) will be acceptable.

    As a guy who spends his whole life immersed in dissecting meaning, value, and significance out of clinical data, I’ve looked at the literature (as per my criteria above) on chiropractic and found that it is beneficial for back pain at all spine levels and carries no (Yes I said “no”.) increase in risks for stroke or neurological sequelae.

    That said, there are quack chiropractors out there. Just as there are quack M.D.’s. Both are dangerous. Both should be arrested at site and punished by being tied to a pole and fed nothing by Ex-Lax for a month.

  • 41. orDover  |  January 8, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    Except the science seems to support that there are links between the seemingly unrelated conditions.

    There is zero scientific support for a link between Chiropractic any anything but some specific back injuries. Not to mention, unlike dentistry (one of the leading causes of death a few hundred years ago used to be infection caused by tooth decay, btw), Chiropractic isn’t founded in science. In many ways it is a lot like acupuncture. One guy back in the 19th century made thus stuff up, and it’s pretty much stuck, and hasn’t changed as science has advanced. The idea is that “energy” (sometimes called “intelligent energy”) flows through the body and facilitates health and healing. It travels through the nerves, and so it passes most often through the spinal column. A misalignment of the spine (called a “subluxation”), blocked the energy and is the cause of illness or any other medical problems. There is no scientific proof that subluxations or intelligent energy exist, just as there is no proof of chi.

    In the world of Chiropractic, there is a continuum of belief. Those who hold strictly to the original tenets are called “straight” and those who do not are called “mixers,” because they take the original tenets and mix in a bit of something else, which can be anything from a bit more real science to the opposite of that, like acupuncture, colonics, or iridology. (Interestingly, the straights are organized under The International Chiropractors Association, while mixers are organized under The American Chiropractic Association.)

    As I said, there is a continuum of nonsense, but any Chiropractor who tells you to come to him for ANYTHING but back (or maybe neck) pain buys into the subluxation/energy idea, because without it they would have no mechanism. Any Chiro who wants to adjust your back because you have a cold believes that doing so will free energy in your body and aid your healing, and the cards of science are stacked against him. Now that’s a far cry from actual research which indicates that gingivitis affects blood glucose levels and therefore can contribute to diabetes, even if both sound improbable.

    By the way, What’s The Harm? is keeping a running tally of people maimed or killed by Chiropractic. (Just to be clear, conventional medicine kills people all the time, but it does so while engaging in real procedures backed by evidence, not magical thinking and centuries old theories about body energy.)

    So I think I’m just surprised at the ire you seem to hold for chirpractic, when I just wouldn’t be surprised for science to eventually uncover links between spinal health and other diseases and illnesses.

    To my mind, that makes chiropractic wholly unlike religious thinking – empirical science can help confirm or disprove the claims. Not true in religious thought, obviously.

    Actually, the ire I have for Chiropractic stems exactly from the fact that science has disproved its efficacy, and yet it continues to practice. Those studies have been done, and they’ve come up negative. Just imagine if, long after phrenology was proved bunk, we still had phrenology offices in nearly every mini-mall. Empirical science has disproved their claims, but they exist in a realm outside of it, the world of pseudoscience and alternative medicine. No study will ever stop Chiropractic because Chiropractors believe that they know more than the researchers, because they “see” the results in their patients, or because the “know” intuitively that it works, or because they “believe” in the Chiropractic process. In that sense Chiropractic, and any other form of pseudoscience like acupuncture or homeopathy are indeed quite like religion. They do not value empirical evidence and they will not be swayed from their ideology by any number of tests, because it is indeed dogma and ideology, not a scientific practice.

    Chiropractors hurt and defraud people. My mother took me to one nearly every week while I was a child. She and my father also had weekly adjustments (not because they had chronic back pain, but because they believed Chiropractic would contribute to their overall health), and I shudder to think how much money they flushed down the toilette, or rather how much money they gave away to help pad the pockets of pseudoscientists.

    Here is a study that demonstrated no benefit for children with asthma after receiving Chiropractic treatments (NEJM 1998). And here is a publication from a Chiropractic organization saying that, while some doctors outside their field have shown Chiropractic to be ineffective for anything but back pain, those doctors have no authority in the Chiropractic field, and therefore the only ones who should be making a decision about the efficacy of Chiropractic manipulation for asthma are Chiropractors themselves, those who view the results in their own patients (aka, those who are biased). Here they clearly know they’ve been disproved, and yet they keep trucking.

    Here is a study that demonstrated that for back pain, Chiropractic was no better than physical therapy (and only one of these contains a risk for stroke) (NEJM).

    Here is a fact sheet from the National Council Against Health Fraud.

  • 42. orDover  |  January 8, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    On the chiropractic/stroke connection. Can you provide your peer-reviewed, controlled, comparative studies in reputable research publications to back this? Case studies are OUT. Only studies with fairly large n values and appropriate comparative controls (historic controls are fine) will be acceptable.

    As a guy who spends his whole life immersed in dissecting meaning, value, and significance out of clinical data, I’ve looked at the literature (as per my criteria above) on chiropractic and found that it is beneficial for back pain at all spine levels and carries no (Yes I said “no”.) increase in risks for stroke or neurological sequelae.

    I’m certainly less familiar with medical literature than you are, as an art historian, but from what I know there are very little papers out there about this, and what little there is comes mostly in the form of case studies. The risk is small an infrequent, for example, in a survey of California neurologists, out of 177 doctors there 55 stroke cases, 16 myelopathies, and 30 radiculopathies following Chiropractic manipulation (yes, I know the issues of self-reported studies, but here’s the source, from the journal Neurology). The issue that I take is not that Chiro is completely ineffective, but that it is no more effective than much safer treatments, like physical therapy and massage, and it might carry the risk of stroke. Even if it only might, it still isn’t worth it.

    There simply isn’t literature out there to render a complete verdict one way or another. Through case studies (where people have collapsed seconds after having their neck’s adjusted, for instance) there does seem to be a direct, although very small risk. As with any medical procedure, it’s about the risk-v-benefit analysis. But that’s beside the point, really. Even if there was zero risk for stroke, I would still not advocate Chiropractic because of their failure to keep up with modern medical standards and their tendency towards magical thinking..

    You might find this blog article by Dr. Harriet Hall interesting, and the avalanche of comments that follows: http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=94

  • 43. Josh  |  January 8, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    “You can read all you want about Football, stats, positions, teams etc., but until you get tackled, you dont know Football”

    Haha, my girlfriend and I have had this ongoing discussion about this very thing. Basically she has to experience something in life in order to feel like she knows it. My attitude is that I only have to learn all the facts and figures and then I have it figured out. So if she is curious about something, she has to do it. For me, I don’t have to do something if I am curious about it, I just have to learn all the details and then imagine what it would be like to do it and that normally satisfies my curiosity.

    Unless its food. Haha.

  • 44. TitforTat  |  January 8, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    Josh

    Thats why you would probably make a better Coach, your girlfriend probably would be the better player ;)

  • 45. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 8, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Really, even if chiropractic had no risk of stroke, I wouldn’t go anywhere near it. The entire foundation is ridiculous (I’d prefer to avoid a profession that is rooted in the idea of mystical life forces), and any benefits you can get from chiropractic can also be obtained from a US Osteopath without the pseudoscientific nonsense. That’s even assuming that there’s any benefit from manipulations that can’t be obtained through other means.

  • 46. LeoPardus  |  January 8, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    The idea is that “energy” (sometimes called “intelligent energy”) flows through the body and facilitates health and healing.

    I often forget how prevalent this abject nonsense is. That’s because I vet chiro’s before I ever set foot in their office. (Look at web sites, ads, etc) Once in their office, I look for posters showing how misalignment pinches nerves or some such. If I see anything about “energy”, I’m gone.

    any Chiropractor who tells you to come to him for ANYTHING but back (or maybe neck) pain buys into the subluxation/energy idea, because without it they would have no mechanism.

    BINGO!

    What’s The Harm?

    Crud, that’s bad “reporting”.

    Here’s what I mean by proper research reporting: (You’ll only get abstracts. If you really want the whole paper, I can try to get them for you.)

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18722202?ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18204390?ordinalpos=7&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18722196?ordinalpos=9&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum

    These are just a few that I picked out in about 30 minutes worth of looking in PubMed. They represent fairly well-constructed studies. (I can pick out holes in them even at that, but then that’s what I’m expert at.) One thing that a brief search shows is that there is NOT a lack of large ‘n’, controlled studies out there.

    Even if it only might, it still isn’t worth it.

    Don’t be silly. Do a search on iatrogenesis in PubMed. It’ll take a while to sort through all the papers, but once you have, you might want to run screaming in abject fear from any hospital or clinic. (Really, the incidence rates are often horrifying.)

  • 47. TitforTat  |  January 8, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Snuggly

    Have you ever heard the term bone setters they predate osteopaths and Chiros? In my experience, if a joint is misaligned sometimes a “manipulation” or “setting” of that joint is required. I disagree with the frequency that it is necessary but there are times when it is warranted. I work in the field and have witnessed on countless occasions where there has been a reduction of pain and an increase in mobility following some types of manipulation. How it works from a scientific perspective is beyond me. But I have no doubt in certain instances it works. I know that doesnt make for any “exact” evidence but 20 yrs in the field has led me to that belief. By the way, I dont much like Chiros either.

  • 48. SnugglyBuffalo  |  January 8, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Oh, I don’t doubt that there are times manipulations are warranted, but I like to have actual need for it, such as a joint that is actually misaligned, rather than mythical “subluxations.”

    If you go to a chiro with back pain, you’re getting a manipulation whether it’s needed or not.

  • 49. TitforTat  |  January 8, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    If you go to a chiro with back pain, you’re getting a manipulation whether it’s needed or not.(Snuggly)

    Thats why if you have back pain, go get a Massage :)

  • 50. Servant  |  January 14, 2009 at 9:29 am

    I had a great fun with a certain chiropractic doctor in my teenage youth. He was first and only chiro at that time in my country, and had mistified background, studying somewhere in US and returning home. He set up his “office” right in my hometown, a smal house with a yard surrounded by wooden fence, and i used to see him wearing black chlotes, always billiard ball shaven, and barefoot, taking his puppy off for a walk. Ofcourse he elevated his personality into a semi-deity and his profession into “mystical healing”, “unblocking of energies” by his “bioenergy powers” and similar stuff. :-) I had a health problem so i decided to visit him. It was a circus from the beginning, first to see dozens of medicine appliances hanged like trophees, taken from the patients he supposedly helped, creating a personal member badge with photo and tagline “I love chiropractic”, listening to his voice on recorded radio interview for few hours, through singing to the national anthem in the yard, but peak was when he marched into the courtyard with large dildo, and started to explain how good blowjob has exceptional benefits to the health of humans. Due to my young age, I didn’t know much about dildos and their uses, so h+He almost had some chick demonstrate it on the unsuspecting rubber instrument. At the end, he didn’t help me with my problem, and his attitude towards the “unbelievers” has finally put him into jail for assaulting neighbors with large piece of his wooden fence. :) Ah, those days :)

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