My Whole Foods piece in The New Republic

I’ve considerably rewritten my piece on Whole Foods and the pseudoscience of the left, which has been published in The New Republic as “Why do liberals tolerate pseudoscience at Whole Foods“? Just FYI. Give them a click for the traffic.

50 Comments

  1. chriskg
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    The comments are very depressing. Few skeptics in the ones posted to date. Maybe that will change.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

      I didn’t find the comments. Does one have to sign up to read them?

  2. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I’m glad you mentioned Boiron. I don’t recall that being in the original but when I think of homeopathy, that comes to mind (usually without the name, just the packaging because my brain is dumb). I tried these before and how anyone could think they work is quite beyond me.

  3. gbjames
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    I left a couple of comments there, but man!, the comments are generally depressing.

    Good to see the piece up on NR, however.

    But, Jerry, I thought you were off on vacation and getting some R&R!

    • jay
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      At a local (not sure if it was the Whole Foods chain or one of its competitors) there was a large display urging customers to ‘buy local’. Right next to it was a large display of bottled water imported from Italy.

      Shipping water from the other side of the world? Really?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        That would’ve made a good picture!

        • gluonspring
          Posted February 28, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          Not too late, I bet.

      • Bob J.
        Posted February 28, 2014 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        I like “buy local” – shall we fly down to Costa Rica for our morning coffee?

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

      Indeed. And the pseudoscience commenters are so fervent. Watching the homeopaths come out of the woodwork to do battle is like watching the evangelicals come out of the woodwork.

      The fundamental message of both is: my personal experience trumps all other data.

      I think perhaps we should work as much to make sure science curriculums dispel that idea as we do to make sure they aren’t sneaking in creationism.

  4. Brad
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Respectfully, this is all very misguided to me. Why direct ire to Whole Foods? ALL supermarkets house a plethora of products that make dubious claims. This is simply a feature of advertising and commerce, not a Whole Foods problem. Yeah, let’s go after the store that sells the cleanest and most nutritious food available to human beings. Not on board. What is the science of picking one’s fights wisely called?

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

      I think WF is just a proxy in this article for affluent liberals. His point is that the left gives a bit of a pass to this kind of quackery even as they rail against the superstitions of the right:

      “There’s a lot of criticism of creationism, but not so much of acupuncture, spiritual healing like reiki, homeopathy, organic food, and belief in the paranormal. That’s because neither conservatives nor liberals have a monopoly on magical thinking, but the left dominates the skeptical movement. And while magical thinking on the right is dominated by religious belief, the brand on the left comes from pure ignorance of science and, perhaps, a weakness for nonreligious ‘spirituality’.”

      If we were launching a campaign to improve public health I’d agree with you that WF is not the place to start, that we should remove the quack remedies first from pharmacies like CVS, Walgreens, etc., since there is much greater chance that someone there will be deceived into thinking they are taking real medicine.

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 1, 2014 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

      I think the point is about Whole Foods shoppers–people who can be so sure about the justification of their food choices while simultaneously swallowing a load of pseudoscientific hooey.

  5. Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    Excellent. I’d just note that the whole food people aren’t mounting campaigns to stop the regular food people from being served in Arizona.
    That’s the fundamental difference with Creationists who are on a mission to push their quakery onto all of society.

  6. Gregg
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    At the bottom of the TNR article, they indicate a version of your post originally appeared on the Oxford University Press blog, but link to the WEIT website.

  7. Kelton Barnsley
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    I noticed that in the article they had an ad for a video game which was preceded by a colon and followed by a caption, as though it were relevant to the article. Just FYI.

    • Bob J.
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      When I was at TNR article, the ad was for buying organic and non-GMO in bulk

  8. Greg Esres
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    “And yes, it’s people’s own business whether they dose themselves with overpriced water”

    This is another area where the issue of free will is relevant; many people feel that regardless of the effort to sell these products, in the end, people make self-determined choices about what to buy. That point of view is hardly defensible, which is why the concept of marketing exists.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      As long as there is an effort to provide the truth to people, which of course marketing doesn’t. Therefore, there needs to be an awareness campaign around these items which includes using terminology that cannot be easily confused with actual medicine (vaccines for example – homeopathic vaccines should not be called “vaccines” because they do not do what vaccines do). Further, they should be placed in their own area and not mixed in with actual medicine so as to limit confusion over what the homeopathic remedy is.

      • Greg Esres
        Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        “As long as there is an effort to provide the truth to people”

        Whose truth? The propaganda of Big Pharma or the truth of those independent thinkers who aren’t intimidated by the censorship of the powerful vested interests?
        :-)

        • horrabin
          Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:18 am | Permalink

          Ah, yes…those powerful anti magic water interests.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:25 am | Permalink

          Neither. The truth that science tells us.

  9. jay
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I tried to post earlier, but I think Android ate my post.

    I was reading another article on the acceptance of pseudoscience by some on the left with regard to vaccination rates.

    While we are familiar with religious exemptions, the actual number of religious exemptions tends to be fairly low (according to the CDC). The highest exemption rates were the states like Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Illinois (running 4-6%) while the lowest exemptions were (ready?) Alabama and Arkansas (about 0.5%). The blue state exemptions were predominantly ‘philosophical’ not religious.

    From a pragmatic point of view, this is more of a direct threat than creationism.

    • Posted February 28, 2014 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      I think the religious exemption laws should be tightened. I beleive the original intent was for groups like Jehova’s Witnesses, who might actually lose their standing as a member if they submitted to vaccination or blood transfusion etc…

      I think parents claiming religious exemption should have to prove that they would no longer be able to practice their religion if they had to vaccinate their children.

      • gbjames
        Posted February 28, 2014 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

        Why should that exempt them? When they fail to vaccinate their kids for any religiously-motivated reason (or woo-motivated reason) they put the health of the rest of the community at risk. There’s no excuse for that.

        • Posted February 28, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          I agree…what I am saying, is that these laws were passed when the people asking for exemptions was tiny in comparison to those being vaccinated.

          In recent years, it’s an open secret that a parent can invoke “religious exemption” and avoid vaccination.

          With just a little tweaking, many parents would be hard pressed to prove an exemption if they tightened the practice of these laws. It would be a small, bit significant change that could up vaccination rates without a huge political fight

          • microraptor
            Posted March 1, 2014 at 12:44 am | Permalink

            It would never pass- doing so would come across as religious favoritism.

    • moarscienceplz
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

      Yes indeed. I was talking with one of the servers at a neighborhood restaurant about a 28 y/o guy who had just died from the flu. The server said that he no longer got flu vaccinations because one time it “gave” him the flu. :-0
      Did I mention that this guy serves food to people?

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted March 2, 2014 at 2:38 am | Permalink

        Did I mention that this guy serves food to people?

        I take it that you declined to be served by him, and asked his supervisor to organise service by someone who had been vaccinated?

    • microraptor
      Posted March 1, 2014 at 12:43 am | Permalink

      Oregon and Washington have long had reputations as being these super-liberal states, but the reality is that Seattle in Washington and Portland and Eugene in Oregon are pretty liberal places but the rest of both states are very conservative. Ultra-right wing religious groups like the Jehovah’s Witnesses (who don’t believe in vaccination or transfusion) are quite prevalent.

      • jay
        Posted March 1, 2014 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        “the reality is that Seattle in Washington and Portland and Eugene in Oregon are pretty liberal places”

        Actually that was discussed. However the exemption rate in ‘liberal’ Seattle was 5.3%–huge.

        Additionally the overall religious exemption rate remained quite low even in the blue states… it was the ‘philosophical’ exemptions that were huge. If a religious person were claiming exemption, it’s unlikely they would list it as philosophical.

        In this article

        http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/09/25/226147147/vaccine-refusals-fueled-californias-whooping-cough-epidemic

        it points out that “Both exemptions and clusters of pertussis cases tended to be in neighborhoods with higher levels of education and income. “

  10. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Re
    “we give a pass to quackery purveyed by liberals or New Agers. There’s a lot of criticism of creationism, but not so much of acupuncture, spiritual healing like reiki, homeopathy, organic food, and belief in the paranormal”

    This is one of my biggest complaints about the Unitarian church (with which I continue to be involved.)

    Thank you, Jerry!

  11. ladyatheist
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    wow apparently they’re too stupid to know they are gullible but not too stupid to figure out how to use the internet

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      This is the enduring problem with technology. It gives power without the requirement for understanding. Any fool can pull a trigger, for example.

  12. Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    The stupidity displayed in the comments is painful. I added my two bits, but oy!

    b&

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      There is one person who keeps posting historical “evidence” for homeopathy working. It’s very annoying.

      • gbjames
        Posted February 28, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        I stopped looking. If you don’t look they aren’t there.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted February 28, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          Me too. I came back here because it is my happy place. :)

        • gluonspring
          Posted February 28, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

          What do you know, you’re right. Thanks!

        • Posted February 28, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

          Who’s not where?

          b&

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 28, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

            No one.

    • gluonspring
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

      It may be more than stupidity at work. A couple of the prolific posters there appear to make a living promoting homeopathy.

    • Bob J.
      Posted February 28, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

      Yes, the stupidity caused me great pain.
      solution-
      1 dram water, shaken not stirred
      2 drams single malt Scotch (to kill germs in the water)

      Oh and by the way caveat emptor has never been the law.

  13. Barry Lyons
    Posted February 28, 2014 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    I wouldn’t go so far as to call organic food “quackery”. Take a look at the “Carcinogenicity in mammals” (scroll down) in this Wikipedia entry for Meythl iodide:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methyl_iodide

    Do enjoy those tasty, cancer strawberries!

    • microraptor
      Posted March 1, 2014 at 12:46 am | Permalink

      I think you may have missed the point that our host was making.

  14. Posted March 5, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Great thoughtful piece. Did not agree with everything but hey!

    What I was not prepared for in the comments by those Homeopathic Harpies- they started to threaten me when I posted the WIKI stuff and their connections to the homeopathic industry. Debby Bruck was posing as just a ‘commentator’, but has a business in North Carolina. They got quite threatening, called it libel, said I would have a problem getting a job- don’t need one .Apparently this same crew pops up all over the universe spamming any site that disagrees with them. There is a lot of support you did not see like people questioning them and posting anti- homeopathic sites.

    Great job!


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