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News Freedom of speech and pseudoscience

  1. Mar 5, 2015 #1
    -freedom of speech (treated as almost sacred idea);
    -spread of pseudoscience.

    I think that quite many people here feel some kind of serious discomfort. Both supporting freedom of speech while in the same time being outraged by pseudoscience. In topic about anti-vaxines crusade, someone suggested to count it as equivalent of "shouting fire in a crowded theatre", which if I understand it correctly is an American way of expressing "Hey, I'm for freedom of speech but that's excessive".

    When I tried to google recipe for my lentils, the top results of Google were informing that lentils cure cancer. You know, it made nervous about eating it, because anti-cancer medication tend to have nasty side effects.

    a) pretend that's OK? Just mock it and hope it would pass away on its own.
    b) claim that concept of freedom of speech was created to protect religious/political ideas, and not to protect pseudoscience. In some countries there are laws concerning denial of Nazi crimes (plus in a few also communist crimes). Maybe that's the right way of reasoning, some shaman treatment of cancer cost in democratic countries nowadays more lives that murders inspired by Nazism/communism?
    c) Force by law each such site to put a warning label like the ones on cigarettes?
    d) Force by law Google to put scientific results in top search?
    e) other idea?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 5, 2015 #2


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    versus --- what? Human nature?
    Due diligence versus stupidity?
    Social safety nets versus "Darwin awards?"
    Mystics versus rationalists?
    Divine revelation, executive order, judicial writ, legislative mandate are all going to be useless to address the issue(s) --- is there eventually going to be a "natural" resolution?
  4. Mar 5, 2015 #3


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    For someone purporting to fight pseudoscience, you make some rather bold unsupported claims in your post. Think twice about eating lentils because they may have benefits for cancer patients ? (which btw isn't necessarily pseudoscience, see this UK NHS source for what seems a rather balanced assessmemt of a published study), Whacko cancer treatments kill more people than nazis and communism combined?? Oh yes "nowadays" nazis aren't such a threat, if that's what you mean,
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2015
  5. Mar 5, 2015 #4
    For someone making such bold accusations, I think that in spite of your outrage, you should read post more carefully:
    "cost in democratic countries nowadays more lives that murders inspired by Nazism/communism?"

    First read carefully, then express your outrage please. Otherwise you risk sounding somewhat silly.
  6. Mar 5, 2015 #5


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    Yes I edited this. And sorry for the blunt reaction but like you I am sometimes irritated to excess by bold unsupported claims. Apologies about that. I shall refrain for any further posting here.
  7. Mar 5, 2015 #6


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    Freedom of speech is as sacred as any principle in the US and as a result it is often misunderstood to be more absolute than it is and apply in places where it doesn't. It isn't protected in the case of slander/libel, threats/harassment, fraud, false advertising, government regulated licensing or generally when it causes actual harm. It also applies only to government restriction, not to individuals or businesses...which is why it only exists here as Greg sees fit to allow it.

    So, as it pertains to pseudoscience, in cases where there is potential for harm, there is ample precedent against it, but the government doesn't put much effort into policing it. There are cases where false advertising for medicine is regulated -- that's why actual "snake oil" doesn't exist anymore, but lobbying is responsible for herbal remedies not being regulated as they should be. It is why tobacco companies can no longer claim health benefits of smoking. It's why doctors can get stripped of their licenses for being anti-vax (the archetype is from the UK, but several prominent anti-vax doctors have also lost their certifications in the US).
  8. Mar 5, 2015 #7


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    I'm only going to address this part of your post, because the serious flaw in "reasoning" needs to be exposed, especially to you.

    Here's your "logic": Anti-cancer medication is nasty. Lentils can be an anti-cancer. Thus, lentils must also be nasty."

    If you do not see a serious flaw in such a deduction, then I seriously question what other erroneous and ridiculous conclusions you have drawn in your life based on such reasoning.

    The flaw here is that you are ignoring the FACT that lentil is a food that has been consumed for ages by numerous civilizations. In other words, we have a very, very, VERY long history of observational data here that showed that this is a very good food! Secondly, no "nasty" effects similar to anti-cancer medication has been shown, even remotely, from eating lentils. In fact, doctors and dieticians are encouraging people to eat more lentils if possible based on many scientific research results.

    The major problem here is how you draw your conclusions. You somehow never attempted to step back, and ask yourself "Hey, is that a valid conclusion?" What I stated above isn't news, and it isn't anything new. In fact, one could easily look up supporting evidence for it. Yet, you use your faulty logic and never seem to attempt to check if they are supported by "experimental evidence" on lentils. You put blinders on once you made your logical connection between anti-cancer medication and lentils without attempting to investigate if such a conclusion is valid. This is a poster child of a pseudoscience behavior! Pseudoscience uses this kind of trickery to convince other people that they are correct, without offering any valid evidence or experimental verification.

    I do not see why this should be catered to in PF.

  9. Mar 5, 2015 #8


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    (emphasis added)
    Perhaps, if this thread remains focused on "Freedom of Speech" rather than its use in defense of pseudo-science, it would be worthwhile to enumerate what is not included: a guaranteed audience; freedom to attribute/dictate other's thoughts and beliefs; freedom from consequences; --- jump in, everybody.
  10. Mar 5, 2015 #9


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    Yet the government has interfered with free speech, dramatically on occasion. The progressive Wilson administration arrested thousands in WWI, handing out some lengthy prison sentences, for "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language".
  11. Mar 5, 2015 #10

    The limits of free speech are usually set in the laws, there is incrimination for lying under oath, calumny, promoting proved harmful treatments and so on. However in the free societies, having a healthy level of secularism, there is no incrimination for blasphemy and this is the sense in which it is often said that free speech is sacrosanct (history fully do justice to this, the existence of blasphemy laws put huge brakes to progress). Pseudo science is a problem indeed but I do not think that censorship is the solution here (indeed sometimes metaphysics can become very well the science of tomorrow), instead we should focus more on teaching people to apply critical thinking when dealing with its claims, show them that usually it does not 'work' (and why with examples), and finally report to the authorities if there is good evidence that it can lead to harming people.
  12. Mar 6, 2015 #11
    I think that we had here a few of such discussion and I suspect that they would end up restating the same arguments, keeping the same general positions and ending up more or less the same place. I just wanted to discuss one narrow subtopic, where some specific conclusion could be possible.

    Good point with regulation concerning "snake oil". But in analogical situation a book encouraging alternative medication of same medical value is actually OK.
    I did not know that concerning advertising tobacco. (I knew about claiming in believing not being addictive)
    In Poland I think no anti-vax doctor lost their licence (or at least nothing in media). But so far the problem wasn't big here.

    After some googling it seems that main person who cures in Poland cancer using lentils (yes, cures, this lentils is to be used externally to draw toxins from body) actually is a doctor, but can not lose any medical licence because his Ph.D. is in physics. (can rightfully be titled doctor and is a researcher from the USA - in my country it unfortunately sounds for quite many convincing enough)

    You mean that you want to say to me that you did not get irony? OK.
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