Monday, May 4, 2009

HuffPo Watch: Premonitions and Other Nonsense

It’s been a long time in coming, but the broad coalition of skeptical science blogs have finally declared war on the ridiculous bullshit littering The Huffington Post. In large part, this has to do with the website’s continual promotion of anti-vaccination propaganda by people like Jenny McCarthy, Jim Carrey, and others without critical thinking skills. And while all of that is definitely bad enough, there’s plenty of ludicrous woo-woo to go around. Case in point: the recent essay “Premonitions and Spirituality” by Dr. Larry Dossey. Unlike many other so-called “doctors” in the world of complimentary and alternative medicine (i.e. “medicine” that isn’t based on fact or evidence), Dr. Dossey really has medical training. Unfortunately, even actual M.D.s aren’t always immune to nonsense, and Dr. Dossey has seemingly turned his back on evidence-based reality in his wholesale embrace of precognition. In his essay, he gives the idea a spiritualist spin, claiming that premonitions aren’t only real, they’re also a method of tapping into the collective oneness of all living things. Like other new age quacks, Dr. Dossey tries to equate this “oneness” with the concept of God, even though to do so would be to abstract the historical concept of God to meaninglessness. (Just to use one example, the Judeo-Christian concept of God is in no way simply another word for some sort of quasi-philosophical universal force. He’s a real person who lives in another world and directly interferes with reality. Going even further back, He’s meant to be only the most powerful among a plethora of other gods. To draw a direct line between this concept and modern new age philosophy is theologically absurd.) It’s also worth noting that nowhere in the essay does Dr. Dossey ever give a shred of evidence to support the reality of precognition. Sure, there are a couple of anecdotal accounts of premonitions coming true, but there’s not a single documented case of a written or otherwise recorded prediction actually coming to pass at a later date. Dr. Dossey tells of a father who was sure that his newborn baby wouldn’t survive into adulthood and how that baby later died of SIDS. But this story doesn’t take into account the surely hundreds of thousands of parents sick to death with worry and paranoia about their children and who thankfully never experience any kind of similar tragedy. This is a pure example of confirmation bias and not proof of anything. But Dr. Dossey isn’t much interested in evidence. Judging by the post-script at the end of his essay, it seems he’s more interested in pimping his book, The Power of Premonitions. Another win for mindless credulity on The Huffington Post!

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