Tag Archives: bullshit

Deepak Chopra and the attractiveness of nonsense

Via Skeptophilia

There are a variety of reasons to learn some science.  First is, it’s cool, and is the only game in town when it comes to understanding what’s actually going on around you in the natural world.  science 824_200pxSecond, there are some issues we’re facing (climate change and genetic modification come to mind) that you can only evaluate properly if you understand the science behind them.  These issues are having an increasing impact on humanity, and most of us are coming around to the idea that handling them properly will require some deep thought — deep thought that requires you to understand what the research actually says.

The third reason is that some knowledge of science will keep you from falling prey to purveyors of bullshit.

Take, for example, this article from Huffington Post entitled “Deepak Chopra On How to Modify Your Own Genes.”  The article begins thusly:

Physician and best-selling author Deepak Chopra has an empowering message: You can actually modify your own genes through your actions and behaviors.

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Purveyor of bullshit

Well, Dr. Chopra, it may be “empowering,” but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s wrong.  Modifying your gene expression is not the same thing as modifying your genes.  Your body responds to changes in environmental conditions all the time — but that is altering the expression of the genes you already have, not making any sort of permanent changes to the genes themselves.

Alteration of gene expression happens continuously, throughout our lives.  If you hadn’t altered gene expression as you developed from a single-celled fertilized egg, for example, you would right now be an amorphous blob of undifferentiated cells, and you would be unable to read this post, because you wouldn’t have a brain.

Now, lest you think that it’s just the writer at HuffPost who got it wrong, and that the passage above was taking something that Dr. Chopra said out of context and making it sound like he believes that experience alters your genes, here’s an actual quote that proves otherwise:

“We are literally metabolizing something as ephemeral as experience or even meaning,” Chopra said in an interview this week at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. “If somebody says to me, ‘I love you,’ and I’m in love with them, I suddenly feel great, and I make things like oxytocin and dopamine, serotonin, opiates. And if someone says to me, ‘I love you,’ and I’m really thinking they’re manipulating me, I don’t make the same thing. I make cortisol and adrenaline.”

First off, what does “literally metabolizing… experience” even mean?  Metabolism is one of those words that’s used in common parlance in a variety of ways, but for which scientists have a precise definition.  You can metabolize the protein in your dinner, but “metabolizing experience”CHOPRA is a meaningless phrase — and it’s almost funny that he put the word “literally” in front of it.

Chopra, of course, has become notorious for this kind of thing.  He once said, in a talk, “We are each a localized field of energy and information with cybernetic feedback loops interacting within a nonlocal field,” a phrase that is kind of admirable in how tightly it packs meaningless buzzwords together.  He specializes in a style of speech and writing that I call “sort of science-y or something” — using words like frequency and quantum and resonance in vague, handwaving ways that have great appeal to people who aren’t trained in science, and who don’t realize that each of those words has a precise definition that honestly has nothing to do with the way he’s using them.  In fact, he’s so well-known for deep-sounding bullshit that there is an online Deepak Chopra Quote Generator, that strings together words to create an authentic-sounding Chopra Quote.  (Here’s the one I just got: “The secret of the universe arises and subsides in descriptions of truth.”)

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The disappearance of Flight 370

Via Skeptophilia

Well, I’m happy to say that The Weekly World News has been supplanted as the world’s first and foremost disseminator of bullshit.  The crown has now officially been passed to Natural News.

Click image for larger view

Click image for larger view

It’s not that the competition wasn’t stiff.  The Weekly World News has had some doozies.  (My all-time favorite TWWN headline: “Santa’s Elves Actually Slaves From The Planet Mars.”)  But Natural News has edged them out, on two bases: (1) they have better writers, so their stories actually sound plausible and therefore sucker more people, and (2) they have mastered the art of distributing bonkers “news” stories via social media.

At first, it was just health stuff (and their site is still sub-headed, “Natural Health News and Scientific Discoveries”).  And as such, they confined themselves for some time to articles telling you about how Big Pharma is trying to kill us all, how you can cure cancer with lemon juice, how putting onions in your socks draws out toxins, and how you won’t get heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or old age if you eat Indian gooseberries.  (You thought I was going to say I made those up, didn’t you?  Well, ha.  Those are real article topics from Natural News.  Teach you to make assumptions.)

But now, they’ve branched out.  And because of this, we have a monumentally screwy piece of journalism, to wit: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared because it… disappeared.

Yup.  Disappeared.  “Poof.”  Or “zap,” or whatever noise you prefer your teleportation device to make.  And admit it: it’s not really that surprising.  Given that we’re talking about the loss of a huge passenger jet, it was only a matter of time until the conspiracy theories started flying around.

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Author Mike Adams does it right, I have to give him that.  First, it’s hammered into our brains how MYSTERIOUS and BAFFLING it is that the plane vanished (words to that effect appear dozens of times), and then we’re offered a possible explanation:

This is what is currently giving rise to all sorts of bizarre-sounding theories across the ‘net, including discussions of possible secret military weapons tests, Bermuda Triangle-like ripples in the fabric of spacetime, and even conjecture that non-terrestrial (alien) technology may have teleported the plane away.

But no, Adams says, that would be ridiculous.  We couldn’t believe that without evidence.  Instead, he asks us to believe the following:

The frightening part about all this is not that we will find the debris of Flight 370; but rather that we won’t. If we never find the debris, it means some entirely new, mysterious and powerful force is at work on our planet which can pluck airplanes out of the sky without leaving behind even a shred of evidence.

If there does exist a weapon with such capabilities, whoever control it already has the ability to dominate all of Earth’s nations with a fearsome military weapon of unimaginable power. That thought is a lot more scary than the idea of an aircraft suffering a fatal mechanical failure.

Righty-o.  Because planes have never disappeared before, or anything.  It’s not as if there’s a list of 122 airplane disappearances that have never been resolved, right there on Wikipedia — 36 of them since 1966, when black boxes were required on commercial aircraft.  It’s not as if there is precedent for it taking a long while to locate wreckage — such as the remains of Air France Flight 447 in 2009, which took three years to recover.  (The black box was finally found under 13,000 feet of water in the South Atlantic.)

Marginally more plausible theories have been trotted out, mostly centering on some kind of Chinese-led terrorist attack designed to get rid of one or more people who were on the plane.  To that, I can only respond:

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Penn & Teller: Bulls**t: Hypnosis

By Penn&TellerBullshit via YouTube

Penn & Teller examines the various promises made by professional hypnosis, and seeks to refute the idea of “mind over body”.

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