Encyclopedia of American Loons

April 23, 2011

I like to describe myself as someone who was born skeptic and a half-century of  life has made a cynic. I’ve been a subscriber to The Skeptical Inquirer for over 25 years and I never miss the weekly podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe. I’ve been reading about the false claims of alternative and complimentary medicine for more than half my life.

How does this affect my day-to-day interactions with the world? Well, when I took my 9 year old Labrador Retriever to a highly renowned and respected canine orthopedic surgeon to evaluate X-rays of his hips and lower back, the first “treatment” he recommended was acupuncture.

He told me he had a lot of anecdotes of owner’s reporting good results with this “therapy.”  I couldn’t quite believe my ears. I replied, “OK, but why don’t we try voodoo first. That also uses pins and needles and has the same amount of scientific support.” He looked blankly at me. I continued. “You’re a surgeon and a man of science. Do I have to explain to you that the plural of anecdotes is not data?” You can imagine how well the rest of that appointment went.

On the topic of skepticism and those whose claims should be examined quite critically, I was delighted to find Fredrik Haraldsen who runs an interesting blog, the Encyclopedia of American Loons.

You’ve got to love his take on former Saturday Night Live comedienne Victoria Jackson: “[She] is a former semi-celebrity who is clinically unable to process information, distinguish an argument from a random string of letters (or none), reason, or string words together in a sentence expressing a coherent thought.”

Here’s an example of straight Jackson quoted by Haraldsen:

“ [Until the age of 40] I didn’t vote for anyone. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know where to go. I never saw a sign that said, ‘Vote Here.’ I didn’t know how to ‘register’ or even that I had to register. I didn’t know what the candidates stood for or how to find out. Word of mouth I guess, but no one I hung out with talked about politics, ever.”

Today, perhaps more than ever, we need someone to keep track of all the nonsense (and those who spout it) that clutters our 24/7 media cycle.

Thank you, Frederik Haraldsen. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll ever run out of material. But that makes it all the more important that you keep adding entries to your encyclopedia.



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