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Bogus science in our universities – how does it spread?

March 23, 2012

Dan Buzzard at Dan’s Journal of Skepticism sounds the alarm on a frightening example of the way bogus science can infiltrate respected media.

Sandra Lucas, a lecturer in nursing at La Trobe University in Melbourne has written an article full of pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo and it’s been published on The Conversation. That’s a website that, until now, people have come to trust as a pretty reliable source.

As Dan points out, only academics can write for The Conversation, and it looks like the site has succumbed to one of the biggest fallacies of them all – the argument from authority. Real science doesn’t do that. It’s alarming that someone who can write an article like this can be lecturing at one of our universities.

3 Comments
  1. Martin Lack permalink

    Is it really an argument from authority? Sandra Lucas may well be abusing the authority of The Conversation but, her argument is, in essence (no pun intended), that if homeopathy works why should we care how it works… The fact that many unscrupulous people are making lots of money by selling sick people little bottles of water does not seem to concern her but hey, at least they are not chasing ambulances…

    • No, Sandra isn’t invoking the argument from authority, but Dan’s point is that The Conversation will publish an article simply because the author is on the staff of a university, and doesn’t appear to have a problem with the fact that she includes a lot of pseudoscientific claptrap. For example:

      Homeopathy uses plant, mineral or animal substances to stimulate the body’s ability to heal itself. The choice of the remedy to use in a particular case is based on the “Law of Similars”: a substance capable of producing a certain set of symptoms in a healthy individual can remove these same symptoms if given to an unwell individual. In other words, what a substance can cause, it can cure (Similia Similibus Currentur).

      This is a natural law observed as far back as 400 BC by Hippocrates. This law was developed into a system of therapeutics 200 years ago by the German physician Samuel Hahnemann who is considered the father of homeopathy.

      • Martin Lack permalink

        Isn’t it amazing how much can be achieved by changing just one or two words in the first sentence of that quote:
        “Homeopathy uses plant, mineral or animal substances to stimulate the mind’s ability to heal the body…?

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