Last month, Playboy magazine ran an interview with Deepak Chopra, well-known among skeptics as a man whose grasp of science is only enough to use sciencey-sounding words to bolster whatever bizarre claim he’s making this week.
I received an email from an editor of Playboy asking me if I’d like to write an OpEd about the interview to be printed in that issue. Given the long reach of the magazine (it sells more than 2 million copies per month) I agreed and quickly penned a response. The interview and my editorial, along with one by Michael Shermer, ran in that June 2011 issue [NOTE: Playboy had the interview online but now it's gone; I found transcripts but I'm not sure they're legal. If someone knows where the original link is, please let me know!]. Here is what they printed from me:
This captures the gist of what I was saying, but due to space limitations was not my entire rebuttal to Chopra’s word salad in the interview (or should that be Mad Lib?). I think it could be read as if I’m insulting people who aren’t scientists, but that’s not what I was saying. To make things clear, here, in its entirety, is what I wrote:
I recently wrote a post about the lack of any evidence that cell phones cause cancer. Not too surprisingly, a lot of alarmist comments followed, many of which actually proved one of my points that the threat is exaggerated: at the very best studies show a very tenuous link between cell phones and health issues, yet people are claiming the relationship is obvious. Clearly, that’s not the case.
I’ll admit my title, "Repeat after me: cell phones don’t cause brain cancer", was overzealous. It’s very difficult to prove that with 100% accuracy. As a skeptic I have to admit that there is some slim chance of a causational relationship, even though study after study show there isn’t.
So it was interesting to me to see Michael Shermer write a post about this for the Skepticblog: Cell phones and cancer. It’s a well-written and clear article with references, links, and quotations from doctors showing that, despite the claims by many people, there is very little or no reason to think cell phone radiation causes brain damage.
Of course, if you’re using one to text while driving, brain damage is far more likely in the form of sudden catastrophic deceleration. So that’s a good time to avoid cell phones. But in ordinary use, I’m not worried, and I’ll continue to use mine. Especially if I finally do start playing Angry Birds.
I really dislike it when people abuse science to promote antiscientific agendas. One particularly popular violator of science is Deepak Chopra, who routinely spouts nonsense to millions of people. He uses scientific words in his sentences, but in such a way that their meaning is either lost or twisted beyond any real sense.
Skeptic Michael Shermer has written another article blasting Chopra, deservedly, IMO. Chopra routinely abuses quantum mechanics to bolster his claims about mysticism and God. To people unfamiliar with science his claims may sound deep, but in fact to those of us who do grok QM we can see right through the babble. Shermer does a great job showing that all Chopra is doing is rehashing age-old concepts with new terms, saying nothing really new.
Of course, the more you try to pin Deepak down, the more drivel he writes on HuffPo and other piffle purveyors. In that sense, at least, there’s some quantum mechanics at play.
So, check out the latest xkcd web comic (or click the picture to see the rest). I have to admit, he’s got a good point. And it’s so crazy it just might work. Hardware stores near Michael Shermer’s house better start keeping track of who buys what.
And is the number of this particular comic coincidence? I have a hard time believing it is.
Skeptic Michael Shermer wrote an open letter to antivaxxer Bill Maher, and to be frank, Shermer hit it out of the park. There’s nothing I need to or can add to what he wrote. Go read it.