Complaints about homeopathy and determinism

I continue to get comments and emails from readers defending homeopathy (many come from India), but they all sing the tired old song: “It helped me, so I know it works.” They know little, I guess, about the self-healing of the body or about placebo effects. But I must say I’m surprised at how common faith in homeopathy is. I really should have dealt with it in Faith Versus Fact as a form of faith-based medicine that may be as pervasive as intercessory prayer—and perhaps more harmful. Here are two attempted comments, the first from reader Ramkrishna Mishra (names were given), on my post about CVS defending its sale of homeopathic remedies. These are only about a quarter of what I’ve received by both email and comment in the last day.

U think homoeopathic medicines are ineffective, have you ever taken any homoeopathic treatment for you or your family, I have seen unaccountable results from homoeopathy not only for CVS, but also in diabetes, thyroid disorders which you orthodox consider incurable or only manageable, in fact u can’t even cure a single chronic disease. Who the hell you are to judge the second most effective system of Medicine. More than 65% people who are under treatment of allopathy are shifting to homoeopathy. Actually you are insecure of existence of allopathy. Homoeopathy is the future of Medicine. Stop doing this crap and accept the fact.

And from reader “Dr Rana”, commenting on the same post:

Check the tests of so called scientific medicines.
All have side effects. A declared bad for health effect. To sell these they want to stop alternative medicines that work without side effects.
They test these with methods that do not apply.
Proof is results.
Homeopathic medicines give results and thus work .

But these are garden-variety defenses of woo. What interested me more was an email I got from an unnamed person who read my piece in John Brockman’s annual “Edge Question” volume in 2015. The question was “which idea must die?” and my response was “the idea of free will” (Coyne, J. A. 2015.  Free will. Pp. pp. 153-156 in Brockman, J., ed. This Idea Must Die. Harper, New York). In that piece, which I can send to anybody who wants it, I made the usual case for determinism, and the usual arrangements that our justice system should make to accommodate the fact that a criminal could not have “chosen otherwise.”

DEar Sir. I read what you said in “This Idea Must Die.” Why should we be soft on crime? Give me one logical reason. Not an emotional reason. Not a religious reason. A logical reason. We must deter crime, therefore we must have harsh punishments. What about the guy who murdered my friend’s sister? I’d like to shove a butcher knife up his ass. I’d like to hear him screaming while he dies. Because that would be justice, and justice is good. Why can’t you see that? Why do liberals always hate justice?
Sincerely, [Name redacted]

Note that I did not say “we should be soft on crime.” I said, as I always do, that punishment needs to be be meted out for three reasons: sequestering dangerous criminals away from society, to rehabilitate malefactors, and to serve as a deterrent for others. Once one has an idea of the degree of punishment necessary to achieve these ends (a hit or miss affair, but one subject to some scientific study), any further punishment is superfluous—and that includes the death penalty.  Nothing is to be gained by extra punishment, and what is to lose is human suffering: the suffering of someone punished beyond what is necessary to achieve social ends.

I am sorry for the death of this person’s friend, which must have been horrible. But we need to move beyond the concept of vigilante justice, or beyond “an eye for an eye.” We already know that the death penalty is not a deterrent, so the only thing gained by this person’s sticking a knife in the fundament of the criminal is satisfying his base emotion of vengeance. There are better ways to deal with criminals; that’s why we have a justice system (flawed as it is) and don’t allow people to take the law into their own hands. Would this person approve of the Saudi practice of cutting off hands for theft, or of Singapore’s policy of execution for drug smuggling—even marijuana?

A deterministic view of justice doesn’t say we should be “soft on crime”. It says that we should be effective on crime, and that may mean a big reform of the justice system. Throwing criminals in jail with other hardened criminals, making them live under situations that no zoo animal would be expected to tolerate, and making no attempt to reform them—that is the way retributive justice works; but retributive justice is based on the false notion that a criminal had a choice in what he did.

And that is my answer to this gentleman.

96 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I’d love a
    copy of your piece on “the idea of free will.”

    • jaxkayaker
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

      See here.

      • Posted December 23, 2016 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        Downloaded for reading later. Thank you!

  3. BobTerrace
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    As far as the comments about homeopathy, they only display emotions and ignorance instead of facts and scientific process. I did get a laugh about the lack of side effects for a treatment consisting of water and air.

    On free will, once again, emotion blocks out reality and the lack of distinction between justice and revenge is tiresome.

    • Kevin
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Ditto.

      Homeopathy: feel good emotions over science

      Free will: emotional retributivism over applying Bayesian techniques to moral problems

  4. jaxkayaker
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    It’s difficult to reason people out of a position they haven’t reasoned themselves into.

    I find comments such as the one you received on determinism to be quite intolerable: “give me a logical reason”. Well, re-read the piece. Those are the logical reasons, you just refuse to acknowledge them, similar to creationism. Irrationality in all forms has certain commonalities. Refusal to understand and address the other side’s argument is a particularly frequent occurrence, it seems.

  5. Joe Pickard
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    “the second most effective system of Medicine”…

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted December 23, 2016 at 3:18 am | Permalink

      After the controlled -tested system, tested for efficacy and safety. (Though I will grant that noticeable proportion of conventional medicine does not have the backing of strong evidence, which it should have. And people get attached to poorly-evidenced old wives tales (OWT) as well as homeopathy. This is a criticism of OWT-medicine, not a support of homeopathy. And yes, I have been speaking to Yorkshiremen.)

  6. Randall Schenck
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I think that first one kind of says it all. “Stop doing this crap and accept the facts.” Kind of overwhelms the mind.

  7. Taz
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Does Ramkrishna Mishra think CVS is a disease?

    • GBJames
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      So it appears. Easily treated, though, with the right remedy.

    • Christopher
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      He might. It also stands for Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome,apparently. So, if he’s not from the US or has ever seen one of the chain pharmacies, he may have just googled it and gotten the wrong CVS. Then again, entering into one of their establishments is enough to make me gag and wretch…

  8. Chris G
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    You have the patience of a saint PCC(E); how you manage to wade through the tons of crap you receive is both admirable, and disappointing in terms of wasted time/effort.
    It’s clear the irksome lot you’ve irked have not taken the time to understand your arguments on the topics of homeopathy and free-will which makes their views/comments/complaints even less worthy of consideration.
    Regarding the Edge question ‘which idea must die’, is this the 2014 question? It appears your piece may be available on the Edge website, although this may be an abridged version compared to the one published in the book:
    https://www.edge.org/response-detail/25381
    Chris G.

  9. Stephen Mynett
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    You cannot win with these people, they refuse to accept facts and reason. I had an argument with a guy a few years back, he was trying to persuade me to try homoeopathy or alternative medicine because standard medicine had failed by not finding a cure for my condition.
    My reply was that when I was born, in 1959, the only treatment for haemophilia was a blood transfusion if I had haemorrhaged too much and that life expectancy was less than 20. Now scientific advances had brought about recombinant Factor VIII and I was able, with regular prophylaxis to keep my base level above 1%, allowing me an almost normal life and able to travel the world, something I have done a lot of but something that would not have been possible when I was born.
    His reply was: “But they still haven’t cured it.” I gave up and have not spoken to the guy since.

    • Jeremy Tarone
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      The same is true for my brother in law, who would have almost certainly died as a young man after a few minor mishaps.

      I’ve pointed out to some anti modern medicine people that children with diabetes almost always died as teenagers, long lingering deaths as they wasted away. My cousin started taking insulin shots at the age of 11 and continues to this day, some 45 years later. She now has her own children and grandchildren. Homeopathic medicine would have killed her.

      Antibiotics saved my brothers life, my arm (and probably my life) and millions of others lives. Antihistamines saved the life of my uncle after a bee sting.

      I feel incredibly lucky to be living in this time, in Canada, a country where I can actually afford healthcare.

      The first writer wrote:
      “Homoeopathy is the future of Medicine.”
      I sure hope not, that would create an incredible amount of unnecessary suffering.

      The second writer wrote:
      “Check the tests of so called scientific medicines. All have side effects.”

      If homeopathic “medicines” were held to the same standards as actual medicines, they too would have long lists of possible side effects, since many medicines list any and every condition people have had or thought they have had while testing the drugs.
      Yet homeopathics would still be ineffective. And while actual medicines do have real side effects, they have actual benefits as well, and as an informed patient I can accept the risk of the side effect or not.

  10. rom
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Regarding all the pseudo sciences Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science is an easy read and a simple source of data. Also Ben is quite critical of the pharma industry in Bad Pharma.

    My complaint about determinism would be there are not enough blogs on the subject. Especially how it might affect our view of things like the regressive left, Sophisticated Theology and other things we might not like. … Especially people have been determined to be who they are and we have been determined to be who we are.

    • Geoff Toscano
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      Both Ben Goldacre books are excellent I’d agree. Of course, there’s also his regular Bad Science website

      http://www.badscience.net

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted December 23, 2016 at 3:23 am | Permalink

        Ben Gold acre is another doughty wader-through of the mires of ignorance. Probably doesn’t get much time outside his decontamination suit either.

  11. Janet Dreyer
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Dear PCC,

    I very much enjoy the things I learn from your emails and website!

    I noticed that you are offering copies of your article: Coyne, J. A. 2015. Free will. Pp. pp. 153-156 in Brockman, J., ed. *This Idea Must Die.* Harper, New York and I would appreciate receiving it, thank you in advance.

    Happy Koynezaa!! I am sorry I do not have a gift for you, but I do have a gif:

    Warm wishes, Janet

    [image: Inline image 1]

    On Thu, Dec 22, 2016 at 6:30 AM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “I continue to get comments and emails from > readers defending homeopathy (many come from India), but they all sing the > tired old song: “It helped me, so I know it works.” They know little, I > guess, about the self-healing of the body or about placebo effect” >

  12. reasonshark
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    We don’t need to go so far as to invoke determinism in order to reform a judicial system, especially since determinism is technically only a useful approximation of, rather than the best model of, how real-world causality works.

    A judiciary system should be rational.

    That is, it should be based on defensible premises, built up via valid chains of logic, and amenable to revision in light of discovered or discoverable facts and data.

    For example, it must take into account psychological findings which suggest that eyewitness testimony is one of the least reliable forms of evidence in existence, and weight it accordingly. For another example, it should demonstrate empirically that a bipartisan “adversarial” method of argument actually is superior to more collaborative alternatives when it comes to assessing the guilty and the innocent.

    More to the point, it should take a bigger view, not just focusing on crimes already committed but focusing on prevention ahead of time, whether or not this is a less sensationalist or glamourous approach than advocating “tough on crime” measures. That also means looking at wider society, not narrowing our focus solely to what happens in the courtroom.

    We should indeed be effective on crime, which includes acknowledging the most accurate physics, chemistry, and biology discoveries. They inform our understanding of causality: the roles played by mathematical/statistical/probabilistic complexity, quantum mechanics, and our personal limitations in measuring what we want to measure. Then we fit our concepts to it.

    To be fair, I think that is what you’re trying to do. What I don’t think is that “determinism” is accurate enough, unless you’re going for a casual sense of the word, though admittedly I’m probably just being pedantic.

    • reasonshark
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      If it helps, the philosophical position that rejects both free will and determinism is “pessimistic incompatibilism”. Personally, I think the “pessimistic” part is unwarrantedly judgemental, but I kinda like the phrase anyway; at least I like it more than I like the vague “hard indeterminist” one which could technically just as easily apply to a full-blooded libertarianist.

      From Wiki:

      “Incompatibilism is the view that a deterministic universe is completely at odds with the notion that persons have a free will; that there is a dichotomy between determinism and free will where philosophers must choose one or the other. This view is pursued in at least three ways: libertarians deny that the universe is deterministic, the hard determinists deny that any free will exists, and pessimistic incompatibilists (hard indeterminists) deny both that the universe is determined and that free will exists

      Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incompatibilism#Pessimistic_incompatibilism

    • darrelle
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      My understanding of Jerry’s position on these issues is that scientific methods should be applied to all aspects of a justice system (much as you described) and, additionally, he is making an ethical statement, a judgement, that because people can not have done other than what they did that retribution or harm of any kind that is not necessary to achieve the best outcome for the justice system / society as a whole, is unethical.

      • Posted December 22, 2016 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

        I’m not sure that scientific methods and ethics are necessarily the same thing.

        If you had a scientifically reliable method of changing criminal behaviour by administering administering electric shocks or chemically induced nausea, or removing part of the brain, would that be ethical?

        What would be the ethical objection to removing the ability to make certain choices if you don’t think people are free to make choices in any case?

        Ethics is built on the assumption that people should be treated with dignity, and as rational actors capable of making their own choices.

        • darrelle
          Posted December 22, 2016 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

          I agree. I was attempting to describe that Jerry is primarily making an ethical value judgement, but that he does also seem to think that the methods of science should be used as appropriate to determine if policies are in fact effective at achieving the goals determined by ethical considerations. I agree with that and think that it is, or should be, pretty much self evident. Decide what is ethical, devise policy to achieve it, check actual results against intended results, use what is learned to devise more effective policy. In other words test against reality and go with what can be shown to work in real life.

          • Riverman
            Posted December 23, 2016 at 7:44 am | Permalink

            Indeed. The question is that people who defend the existence of free will fall very easy in the moral fallacy.
            Their morals are based on free will, so they think free will must be true.
            I’m determinist, but if I cut myself by accident, I try to cure the wound in the best way. It’s the same with violence, crime… I want that problem to be resolved. It’s no easy, there a lot of moral consequences, a lot to discuss, differents aproaches… of course… but that has nothing to do whith the fact that we are just a bunch of molecules that have to comply the laws of physics…

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      I agree that to be effective on crime, what we want is a consequentialist approach to justice, but not necessarily a deterministic one.

      In fact, as I’ve said before, I expect the most effective approach to rehabilitation to be essentially compatibilist. We want to teach offenders to take control of their lives and make better choices. I can’t see how that goal is advanced by defining “choice” and “control” in a way that denies their existence.

      • reasonshark
        Posted December 22, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        I can’t see how that goal is advanced by defining “choice” and “control” in a way that denies their existence.

        That depends on what framework you consider appropriate. The way I see it, cause and effect seem sufficient to describe what we’re trying to do, while also meshing with our most scientific understanding of the world.

        Therefore, “choice” and “control” reduce to “cause” and “effect”. More specifically, to “causally determined programmed responses, however complex and unpredictable” and “size of effect on other physical entities”, respectively. Combine a working knowledge of how to accomplish any particular consequence with one’s luck of being born with a conscience and reasoning faculties, say, and you’re more or less there.

        With that in mind, the task of punishment is simply a question of whether we’re dealing with personal beliefs in a reasoning agent, or with desires in an urge-driven being. Are we correcting a mistaken worldview of a rational actor, using rational discussion? In which case, provide the evidence and/or reasoning, and the rational actor will incorporate that information into their worldview and self-correct. Or are we manipulating urge-driven beings into behaving a certain way? In which case, focus on techniques with empirical support for their efficacy, even if they are rhetorical or deceptive. Cause and effect in both cases.

        Both personal belief and personal desire, the two main components of the mind, collapse to the issue of causality. I think that’s enough without necessarily invoking “control” or “choice”.

        • phil
          Posted December 22, 2016 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

          How would you deal with a religiously motivated terrorist, a rational actor with a mistaken worldview? Such a person is unlikely to be amenable to “evidence and/or reasoning” that would disabuse them of their belief. Of course you may argue that they are not rational because of their religious belief, but they could quite possibly (probably) be entirely rational apart from their religion, but yet be motivated to terrorism as a rational consequence of that belief.

          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted December 23, 2016 at 3:30 am | Permalink

            There have been reports of effective (NB) treatment by the injection of doubt through what you might describe as “talking therapies” (in a custodial context). Of course the other side of this coin is allegations of brainwashing.
            I don’t have references. Wildly out of my fields.

          • reasonshark
            Posted December 23, 2016 at 7:05 am | Permalink

            Of course you may argue that they are not rational because of their religious belief, but they could quite possibly (probably) be entirely rational apart from their religion,

            And this is a problem why?

            Humans are not pure rational actors any more than they are pure puppets to be manipulated. Your treating them as a mutually exclusive either/or dichotomy is not, therefore, a problem.

            To the extent that they are amenable to reason but simply mistaken or misguided, then one reasons with them. To the extent that they are irrational actors who do bad stuff, then one gets them to stop doing it, either by incarcerating them or by manipulating them into, say, not wanting to do it. Which aspect takes higher priority depends on the individual in question, since it depends on to what extent they are, in fact, rational actors.

            I think it’s safe to say that a religious i.e. faith-based fanatic who refuses to listen to reason is not, in any case, a rational actor.

            • phil
              Posted December 23, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

              “Humans are not pure rational actors any more than they are pure puppets to be manipulated. Your treating them as a mutually exclusive either/or dichotomy is not, therefore, a problem.”

              I’m sorry if that’s the impression you got from what I wrote but that was not my intention. In fact I was alluding to precisely the fact that believers can indeed be reasoning beings, that it really isn’t a simple dichotomy. That is after all how we end up with Sophisticated Theologians ™. WLC and Alvin Plantinga are pretty good at building reasonable arguments, and I am pretty sure they believe them, but I doubt you have much chance of convincing them that their beliefs are false.

              The fact that they hold unreasonable beliefs does not make them otherwise unreasoning or irrational people. Note the qualifier. The point I am trying to make is that disabusing them of their beliefs is unlikely to be an easy task.

              “I think it’s safe to say that a religious i.e. faith-based fanatic who refuses to listen to reason is not, in any case, a rational actor.”

              No I don’t agree. Their beliefs may be unreasonable, but they may reason from them to do unspeakable things. If god really is who he is claimed to be then murdering apostates, unbelievers, etc, is arguably a reasonable or even rational thing to do. Personally I think think that should be trumped by religious freedom arguments, but I doubt all believers would agree.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

          You seem to be OK with invoking reason and self-correction. I don’t see how that’s meaningfully different from invoking choice and self-control.

          And surely the goal of rehabilitation is (at least in part) to convert urge-driven beings into rational actors. Doing that requires convincing them that deliberative action and self-correction are possible. That seems to be at odds with the notion that they did the crime because they couldn’t help themselves.

          • reasonshark
            Posted December 23, 2016 at 8:01 am | Permalink

            You seem to be OK with invoking reason and self-correction. I don’t see how that’s meaningfully different from invoking choice and self-control.

            Reason is in no sense “choice”. What does choice add to the concept? If you’re choosing options within reason, then either you have no choice but to follow reason (and so self-correct, if necessary), or – on the off-chance there are at least two best “options” – it makes no meaningful difference anyway. If you’re choosing whether to follow reason at all… that’s a bug, not a feature. It amounts to no more than failing at being rational.

            And surely the goal of rehabilitation is (at least in part) to convert urge-driven beings into rational actors.

            Well, the goal of rehabilitation is ultimately the goal of incarceration, deterrence, and prevention: cause or try to cause a future in which the crime rate is reduced. If the best way of doing so is rehabilitation, then it’s a question of which techniques within rehabilitation have demonstrable effect. It boils down to using existing urges – or should I say inclinations, desires, etc. – to cause less destructive ones in the future. If we can get there by being honest too, all to the good.

            Doing that requires convincing them that deliberative action and self-correction are possible.

            Strictly speaking, it means either pointing out reasons for behaving ethically – which will get them to behave ethically, to the extent they are rational – or using their urges, inclinations, desires, etc. to get them to behave in such a way that they are indistinguishable from said rational beings. Psychopathic individuals, for instance, mostly respond to appeals to self-interest rather than to facts about victims, and so are basically cajoled or coerced into behaving correctly. In practice, it could wind up being a mix of the two – reasoning and manipulation – but that is what it boils down to.

            Of course people respond to hypotheticals (to what could happen), but again these are either reasoning tools or a way of manipulating them – more specifically their urges, inclinations, desires, etc. – into correct behaviours. The concept of choice doesn’t add much to this analysis unless you want to identify choice with either of those processes.

            • Gregory Kusnick
              Posted December 23, 2016 at 11:21 am | Permalink

              You’re free to analyze it however you like. But when it comes to effectiveness, my guess is that telling people they have choices and teaching them how to make good ones will be more effective than telling them they’re being manipulated for the benefit of their betters. A commitment to effectiveness would seem to preclude an a priori rejection of the language of choice.

              And of course the goal of rehabilitation is not just to reduce the crime rate. Compassion demands that we help struggling people become productive and fulfilled citizens, for their benefit as well as ours.

      • Posted December 22, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

        I agree. I can’t see how telling malcreants “you couldn’t have done otherwise” would help their rehabilitation.

        • Posted December 22, 2016 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

          Same here.

          If you want to reform people they have to learn to accept responsibility for the decisions which brought them where they are, and to take responsibility for the decisions they might make in the future.

          I’ve worked with ex-offenders. The ones who excuse their actions with folk-determinism are the ones who will be going back to jail.

        • reasonshark
          Posted December 22, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          Interesting point, though.

          Is it true that they could not have done otherwise? In which case, we would be telling them the truth, which presumably suggests they are rational agents facing reality, which presumably increases the chances of, say, self-acceptance and rehabilitation.

          Does saying such things increase or decrease the risk of recidivism? In which case, empirical evidence either way dictates, or at least partially influences, our approach towards rehabilitation, or even whether rehabilitation is likely to be feasible at all.

          The tricky part is that “could have done otherwise” claim. What does it mean? Hypotheticals are a weird case when it comes to “true” and “false” distinctions.

          I suspect there is a legitimate way of using hypotheticals here – it’s hard to think without them – but it’s confounded by one fact. That fact is this: our thinking through the hypothetical is not just a passive bit of information-processing, but a causal factor in its own right. Merely contemplating what could happen, in other words, changes what will happen. It could be a self-fulfilling prophecy, for example. It’s even capable of sabotaging itself, simply because a belief sometimes results in a behaviour, the result of which in turn disproves the prior belief.

          • Posted December 22, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

            The opposite of free will isn’t determinism, its fatalism.

            This isn’t an empty philosophical discussion to me; teaching ex-offenders they are not responsible for their past or future actions is bad psychology

            You don’t need determinism to push for penal reform. The rest of the civilised world gets by fine with smaller prison populations and without the death penalty.

            • reasonshark
              Posted December 22, 2016 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

              The opposite of free will isn’t determinism

              I don’t recall saying it was. Pessimistic incompatibilism regards both as untrue, in any case, so the point is moot.

              This isn’t an empty philosophical discussion to me

              Implying that it is for me? None of my points are “empty”, or even that esoteric. The main two boil down to this: that, if you tell someone X, two issues arise naturally…

              1) Is X true?

              2) What are the consequences of telling someone X is true?

              What’s empty or philosophical about that?

              Furthermore, my point about hypotheticals is crucial to the discussion, because if hypotheticals are not in any sense true, then saying “X could do Y” is a questionable statement at best, nonsense or outright falsehood at worst. If you’re telling offenders they could’ve done differently when they couldn’t, in this scenario you are not telling them the truth.

              teaching ex-offenders they are not responsible for their past or future actions is bad psychology

              You seem certain about your claim here, but the fact is that “responsibility” has to mesh with our understanding of causality. If I were to teach ex-offenders that their actions are, were, and will be the result of multiple chains and webs of causality, all going back to a time before they were even born, would I somehow be lying to them? How does “responsibility” fit into such a world? You can’t use the term without thinking about that.

              You don’t need determinism to push for penal reform.

              You seem to be putting words into my mouth. I’m not asking for determinism – again, I’m not even a determinist in this discussion anyway – and the only penal reform I’ve suggested on this thread depends on nothing more than straightforward rationality, espescially but not exclusivvely science.

              The rest of the civilised world gets by fine with smaller prison populations and without the death penalty.

              “The rest of the civilised world”… are you assuming I’m a citizen of the USA, by any chance?

              In any case, I would like to see a judiciary system that can honestly say “When the facts change, I change my mind”. There’s a hell of a lot more to rational policy making than prison populations and capital punishment. I’ve given examples above, such as the point about eyewitness testimony, but in any case what’s wrong with wanting to improve both knowledge and practice in these areas? Or have we reached perfection already?

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted December 25, 2016 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      reasonshark, I agree with what you said here:
      For example, it must take into account psychological findings which suggest that eyewitness testimony is one of the least reliable forms of evidence in existence

      Thank you

  13. Mark Cagnetta
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Guy P. Harrison, in his latest book, addresses the nonsense of homeopathic medicine. He cites the study conducted by the state of NY, where they found little to no ingredients that are listed on the label, or are supposed to be the actual product itself. So, not only is it a farce, these people are actually eating Chinese botanical products that have no desired effects.

    • loren russell
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      You need to differentiate between homeopathic and herbal ‘medicines’. In theory little or no “ingredients” would be expected in the former; the NY investigation was primarily of herbal concoctions, where plant material was present but mostly not what was stated on the label.

      [Of course many ‘homeopathic’ nostra DO contain active ingredient, though very often having nothing to do with their stated base.]

  14. scottoest
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I tend to try and grant some slack to people like your last emailer, since their objectivity has clearly been steamrolled by emotional trauma.

    • scottoest
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Also, I hope “Dr Rana” isn’t actually a doctor, based on their comment.

  15. Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Interesting post.

    I find that all the “new” and “alternative” medicine fads these days (and probably always) have the same look and feel as religion. And why not, from their perspective? It’s a great marketing method.

    Here are a few of my observations about the various forms of woo medicine (Sam Harris has noted much of this in his podcasts):

    1. It always (always) “helps you lose weight!” Imagine that, the #1 obsession with Americans of the Self-help mind set. Sorry guys everything doesn’t help you lose weight. This claim alone virtually guarantees that most of this stuff is nonsense.

    2. It sounds like religion. It’s all about “miracles” and “life changing” and purity, especially what you eat. Sin, righteousness, and and redemption. I refuse to be tainted by eating XX. Chemicals are bad! Organic is good! (I always point out that you yourself and everything you can see it 100% made up of chemicals.)

    3. It all plays together: Whatever “syndrome” or “disease” is under discussion, they all refer to each other in a self-reinforcing way. Oh yes, if you have X condition, that’s very common to have Y as well.

    4. It all tries to sound “sciencey”. They make pronouncements about studies etc. that are either contrary to what they say they are or useless. They cite people rather than published articles. They like to use lots of big, medical-y and science-y words; but are basically talking post-modernist B.S.

    My wife pointed me to one writer of an anti-grain book, saying, “she has a PhD in biochemistry and has discovered lots of new amazing things about inflammatory reactions. So, I looked up her publishing record. She co-authord a handful of papers on a single histamine activating protein which has been known about for decades before her papers.

    They are always coming up with made-up conditions like: “leaky-gut syndrome” that sound like science but are made-up to sell books and supplements.

    Every time I have looked into the evidence, studies, etc. for the claims of this industry, I have found them to be completely unsupported. It is common for the self-help industry to claim the exact opposite conclusions (the ones they want) from the actual conclusions of the scientific papers they reference.

    5. Self-help industrial complex: The whole rigamarole is run by some big self-help publishing companies (Rodale springs to mind) that indoctrinate using their magazines and books and their “authorities”. And use their authorities on the chat shows. And I’m sure own supplement producers.

    It’s always something new: The new “miracle food” or “super food” (why didn’t miracle food 1, 2, 3, 4, … N work???) Or the new special diet. Or the new super-supplement. Or the new syndrome (for which you new supplements X, Y, and Z).

    Of course! They have to continue to sell books and magazines! They have to have content! And, if you are unrestrained by the requirements of evidence, you can just make it up and pocket the proceeds.

    6. They use terms incorrectly, intentionally. Such as claiming that “food is medicine”. It is not. It is food. Medicine is something that is shown to have a clearly defined therapeutic effect and is safe. Food does not do this (except in the rarest of cases in the developed world, e.g. vitamin deficiencies.)

    • Sastra
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Excellent points all. But I’d like to add in

      7.)Many if not most alternative medicines rest on supernatural assumptions. Material things behave as if infused by mentality. Nature “cares;” vitalism or conscious energy flows freely or we become ill; magical correspondences; a spiritual system which rises above the materialistic ‘paradigm;’ ancient wisdom discovered by mystics during trances, or insights suddenly revealed; medications which seem to “know” and specifically target what is wrong with you, and nothing else — and, of course, what Orac claims to be one of the major premises underlying alt med: thinking makes it so.

    • Christopher
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      I used to have a subscription to the now defunct Rodale’s Organic Gardening magazine. I enjoyed the emphasis on heirloom plants, composting, creative gardening ideas, and the idea that you don’t need a scorched-earth, golf course-like sterile garden to get quality produce. However, after reading an article on Biodynamic gardening (which wasn’t, as I first thought, about companion planting or encouraging pollinators or beneficial insects), and catching more than a whiff of something much stronger than organic compost, if you know what I mean, I cancelled the subscription and have never looked back.

      I still do my gardening organically, by which I mean I don’t use chemical fertilizers or insecticides, but I don’t feel the need to dust my plants with quartz and harvest the cosmic energy of the soil. and before anyone goes off on me for organic gardening, it’s not for pseudo-scientific “health” reasons, only that I gladly cede some plants to insect neighbors in return for the joy of studying their behaviors.

    • phil
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

      “Chemicals are bad! Organic is good!”

      *Snort* Yeah. Remember the special Tibetan salt that was GMO and chemical free?

      Poo is organic! See how you go on a diet of your own poo, it has the added benefit of recycling! The venom from snakes, spiders and various sea creatures is entirely organic too.

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

        So is Amanita phalloides!

  16. Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    That person wants a non-emotional reason for why we should be “soft” on crime, but then proceeds to give an extremely emotional reason for why he wants a harsh punishment. People amuse me.

    • reasonshark
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Yes, that’s what struck me about that comment as well. I do wonder if it’s supposed to be interpreted sarcastically: he(?) was mocking the very idea of using logic when it came to justice systems, as opposed to following emotions into revenge-motivated sadism. That’s suggested by the juxtaposition between the logic of the deterrent theory mentioned (“We must deter crime, therefore we must have harsh punishments.”) and the impassioned challenge afterwards (“What about the guy who murdered my friend’s sister? I’d like to shove a butcher knife up his ass. I’d like to hear him screaming while he dies.”).

      • Michiel
        Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        “Why do liberals always hate justice?”
        This guy sounds like a cartoon-republican. Sad if he’s for real.

        • Posted December 22, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

          To me, the problem is the murderer, not the victims.

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    It’s cute that Ramkrishna has seen homeopathy work as a cure “for CVS.”

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      But does it cure Walgreen’s?

  18. Christopher
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    The views expressed in the pushback are so common that those of us on the other side are such a small minority and are viewed as the ignorant ones. I find it very difficult to counteract the quackery. I am frustrated that my own son, who was raised to know better, to think, to examine evidence, to skeptical, has gone full quack and has been visiting a chiropractor for the last two years, thanks in part to my sister, his mother, and a chiropractor who married into the family. He’s convinced they are real doctors, that it helps him, even if it’s only placebo, and there’s no danger. Likewise, my friends are deep into homeopathy, and I found out also think the moon landing was faked, the International Space Station is fake, and they just drop astronauts from high up in the sky to simulate re-entry because everything would burn up if it really re-entered from space. People I work with think that using essential oils keeps viruses away, and my mother is convinced of all sorts of pseudo-medical stuff about detox, vitamins, is somewhat anti-vax…and if I say anything against any of this stuff, I’m considered an ignorant asshole!

    The Enlightenment is flickering, ready to burn out.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      So, at what point do you disown your family? I have basically done that for completely different reasons but really. Gets a bit hard to take or to put up with. My grandfather had this saying that I came to understand growing up – You can choose your friends but not your relations (relatives).

      • Christopher
        Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

        I could never disown my son, and I still have hope for him (I know I gullibly gulped down a fair amount of pseudo-science shit at his age, but I grew out/educated myself out of it) but I do distance myself from much of my family already, while attempting subversive pro-science discussions with my nieces and nephews. But even if I did disown them, it’s hard to find people that don’t believe in this tripe. It gets a bit lonely, ya know?

  19. kieran
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    My sister and brother both swear by homeopathy, mainly to wind me up.

    My niece swallowed the best part of two packets of a homeopathic remedy, brought to hospital and was told that she might have a sugar high at worst.

    • Christopher
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      Reminds me of the Belgian skeptics who “committed mass suicide via homeopathic overdose” several years ago. And of course I’m sure we have all seen James Randi “commit suicide” by ingesting whole packages of homeopathic “medicine”.

  20. Marc Borella
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

    Thanks for letting us know about the free will paper. Really is a fascinating subject. Have read Sam Harris and Steven Pinkers books on the subject and look forward to diving into your work.

  21. Stephen Mynett
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    It is a long time since I read this, I know Chris Hallquist has a go at faith healing but not sure if he goes into alternative medicine as well -it is mainly a go at apologetics. Whatever, I think it is a good read and he has made it free, or a donation if you wish, link here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hallq/2013/02/my-first-book-which-takes-on-christian-apologists-like-william-lane-craig-on-the-resurrection-available-for-free/

  22. David Duncan
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    “We already know that the death penalty is not a deterrent…”

    It’s often a deterrent *after* the event, hence the many plea bargains to avoid the death penalty, even at the cost of life behind bars without parole. I often wonder if criminals who fear death think about the consequences of their actions before they commit their crimes.

    I also wonder why the shoe bomber didn’t get the death penalty.

    Do you think a person sentenced to life without parole should be given the means to commit suicide in prison?

    • Posted December 22, 2016 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

      There’s no such thing as a ‘deterrent’ after the event. Regretting doing the consequences is not the same as not doing it.

      The shoe bomber expected to die so I don’t see how the death penalty could have deterred him. Do you think anyone is scared of dying twice?

      • phil
        Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

        “Do you think anyone is scared of dying twice?”

        Lazarus?

        I have heard a few times that, curiously, it is usually cheaper to imprison someone for life than to execute them. I think that presupposes that reasonable appeals an review processes exist and that they are exhausted. I doubt it would apply to the sort of summary execution that organisations such as ISIS practise.

  23. MP
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    Homeopathy is pretty popular in India – maybe due to high private healthcare costs and dismal public health facilities and an environment conducive to water/air borne infectious diseases. I have seen my relatives approaching homeopathic and ayurvedic doctors for cancer treatment.

    Government of India is encouraging usage of alternative medicine and has a separate ministry for same
    http://ayush.gov.in/

    • loren russell
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      better homeopathic than many Ayurvedic nostra, which are notorious for dangerous heavy metals and plant products in their formulations.

      Possibly as dangerous as “allopathic” drugs when Hahnemann [spelling?] pulled his concoctions out of his nethers.

  24. Steffen Toxopeus
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I wrote an essay a few months back defending free will and compatibilism. I sent it to Jerry for consideration by did not hear back. One of my premises was that determinism is perfectly valid in a closed system on the macro scale. However, when an energy source is introduced (particularly on the micro/quantum scale) simple cause and effect that determinism relies on becomes less viable. While determinism is logically consistent, I think it’s a stretch to extrapolate physical cause and effect from observation to matter on the quantum scale.

    I’ll leave my closing paragraph below, followed by note:

    //Unfortunately, trying to prove determinism false results in the same impasse we arrive at when trying to prove a deity not being real – that is, you cannot prove a negative. For a scientific theory to be fully accepted, it must not only pass tests to show its validity, but it must also be falsifiable. In the case of determinism (in my opinion) we can only have some confidence that it is invalid. However, without a path to falsifiability, we’re at an impasse. Clearly, we have a long way to go in understanding the natural world, and in particular, how consciousness and sentience arises from matter and energy. We will only truly understand sentience once we can duplicate it in a machine. Until then, determinism will remain mere speculation when it comes to matters of the mind. Free will, be that as it may, is perhaps our only hope in fighting the entropy.

    2. I think it’s disingenuous for adherents of determinism to suggest that the only reason we want free will to be true is to hold people accountable for their actions. Determinists and compatibilist both hold people accountable for their actions regardless of philosophical nuances. It’s like using an escape clause when Sam Harris suggests sending a murderer to prison to keep society safe. He is acting as if he’s holding the murderer accountable for his actions. Determinism be damned, nothing we learn from it changes our behaviour when it comes to accountability. Being a hard determinist does not stop Jerry Coyne from trying to make a difference in the world – lucky for us.
    //

    • Vaal
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Steffen,

      Not having read your essay I have no idea how much I would agree. But the fact that you imply that casting doubt on the confidence we can have for determinism shows a weakness for Jerry’s position on free will, suggests your essay doesn’t quite address his position.

      Incompatibilists like Jerry do not believe that there is no “free will” simply by presuming determinism.

      Rather, they reject free will because, on their view, there is no coherent or compelling account for how there could be free will.

      So IF one takes determinism as true, then it follows we have no free will.

      But also IF indeterminism is true, we still don’t have free will, because our choices being non-determined implies an arbitrary randomness that wouldn’t seem any more “free” than if they were determined.

      So Jerry’s position is not simply an embrace of determinism, but a rejection of compatibilism and libertarian types of free will. He has explained many times why introducing indeterminism, or contra-causality, does not seem a promising route for grounding free will any more than compatibilism.

      • Posted December 22, 2016 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

        Rather, they reject free will because, on their view, there is no coherent or compelling account for how there could be free will.

        So IF one takes determinism as true, then it follows we have no free will.

        But also IF indeterminism is true, we still don’t have free will, because our choices being non-determined implies an arbitrary randomness that wouldn’t seem any more “free” than if they were determined.

        If that’s a scientific argument what evidence would it require to disprove it?

        • Vaal
          Posted December 22, 2016 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

          It’s a philosophical argument.

          It concerns the question “what would it mean to have free will?”

    • darrelle
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

      A few points.

      1) Compatiblists are determinists. Compatiblists fully accept determinism and their primary claim is that determinism is compatible with freewill. Incompatiblists primary claim is that determinism is not compatible with freewill.

      The only significant difference between Compatiblists and Incompatiblists is the term “freewill.” Both Cs and ICs generally agree that the cognitive phenomena that Cs use the label “freewill” to identify exist / occur. But the IC position is that what Cs call freewill is not the same thing that the typical average person means when they use the term “freewill.” Regarding determinism, both Cs & ICs are in full agreement.

      2)

      “I think it’s disingenuous for adherents of determinism to suggest that the only reason we want free will to be true is to hold people accountable for their actions.”

      Adherents of determinism don’t, generally speaking, say that is the only reason. But, that is one of the key issues with respect to justice systems/ ethics / freewill, so that is what gets discussed.

      3)

      “Determinism be damned, nothing we learn from it changes our behaviour when it comes to accountability.”

      Knowledge of, acceptance of, determinism can certainly change behavior just as any other bit of knowledge, or belief, or stimulus can. Not only that but it can change your behavior whether or not it is actually true or not. Just like any other belief. In regards to Jerry’s take on the ramifications of determinism it is really easy. Boiling it down it is, “Since people are not capable of choosing to do other than what they did our justice systems should not include causing criminals any more distress than the minimum that can be shown to be necessary in order to prevent the criminal from harming anyone and to, if possible, rehabilitate them.” It is simply an ethical judgement.

      And yes, determinism needn’t be true in order to justify that ethical judgement, but it does support it very well.

      4)

      “Being a hard determinist does not stop Jerry Coyne from trying to make a difference in the world – lucky for us.”

      Jerry trying to make a difference in the world is fully compatible with determinism. Even his actually making a difference in the world is fully compatible with determinism. All that determinism implies about those things is that they are a result of all of the biological processes and experiences of Jerry Coyne that have occurred right up to the instant of the event in question.

    • phil
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      “It’s like using an escape clause when Sam Harris suggests sending a murderer to prison to keep society safe. He is acting as if he’s holding the murderer accountable for his actions.”

      It just looks that way, the actions are similar but the motivations aren’t. It’s like eating because you are hungry and eating because you want like the taste of something. We eat things we don’t necessarily like, and sometimes we eat when we are not hungry.

      The motivations are important.

    • Posted December 23, 2016 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      You absolutely can prove a negative. You just need to show that something we do have proof for renders it impossible. A simple example, 2 + 2 is not 5. We can prove this because it is 4 and 4 is not 5.

      Once you’re outside of logical claims, it doesn’t make sense to say we’re proving anything. Rather, we’re dealing with levels of certainty. But we can still be highly certain of some negatives, e.g. the Christian God doesn’t exist, the sun doesn’t rise in the west, there is no elephant in the room I’m in right now, etc.

  25. Pete T
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    1 – I love the unintentional humour of the first homeopathy commentator – “…in fact u can’t cure a single chronic disease.”
    Well no. Pretty much what defines a chronic disease these days is being one which you can’t cure. Otherwise it tends to be no longer a disease at all and you’re cured or else you’re dead. A whole heap of diseases that once would have been considered chronic have lost that label through the means of cures having been found. Not by alternative medicine. By medicine.
    2 – On the subject of reasons for there to be punishment of offenders, I think there could be at least one further potentially rational reason to offer beyond the three put forward. If it could be shown that there was a psychological benefit to victims or their families such that the effects of the crime were in some way ameliorated or their recovery from the trauma was aided then perhaps punishment of a perpetrator could be justified. I realise that such evidence is lacking.

    • Posted December 22, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Kudos to you for thinking about the victims. Self-report: I think I would feel better if the perpetrator were punished.

    • Posted December 22, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      To the gentleman whose friend’s sister was murdered:
      I wholly agree with you. I feel the same, and I am much in the same shoes. I even do not write in my blogs how my loved one died, and do not say it to most people, because some his family members do not want the publicity. And I do not blame them. The victim is always under suspicion to have somehow brought it upon him-/herself, and survivors are chastised for not taking it well enough. Best wishes to your friend, and to you. Stay strong.

      • phil
        Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

        A problem I see is how to decide what would be appropriate retribution to satisfy the victim(s) and their family and friends.

        From what I see in reports on criminal cases some people are satisfied with the sentencing outcome and some people aren’t. As many from family of victims, particularly murder victims, say nothing will undo the effects of the crime. To ease this problem victim impact statements are often read out in court prior to sentencing.

        Pinker suggested (in Better Angels) that having the state determine punishment for crimes has probably reduced violence because for the most part the state is not an interested party in many crimes and is seen as being impartial, and thereby removed the motivation towards vendetta.

        And yeah, it would help enormously if society was more inclined to support victims than persecute them. In Australia (and I presume elsewhere) there are programs to provide financial compensation to victims of crime.

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 22, 2016 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

        I’m very sorry to hear that, Maya. Best wishes to you as well.

  26. Posted December 22, 2016 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Your mention of placebos brought to mind a great line from an episode of “The Simpsons,” where Homer exclaims, “Where can I get some of those placebos?!”

    On a more serious note, I worked for 20 years at the Kaiser Center for Health Research and can vouch for the fact that the phrase “There is no evidence for the effectiveness of” can mean any number of things. It can mean “We conducted a controlled clinical trial and found no evidence.” It can also mean “No studies have been done, for any number of reasons, including that we think the idea is stupid.”

    In the case of CDC-funded studies it can mean that “We found evidence, but the CDC decided not to publish the results.” Unlike research contracts for, say, pharmaceutical companies, which always include a clause that the research institute reserves the right to publish the results regardless of the findings, contracts with the CDC contain no such clause. Hence, the CDC is within its rights to withhold the results if it deems that publishing them might do more harm than good.

    Finally, there are studies conducted for the sole purpose of grinding some political axe, the results of which will never see the light of day if they don’t support the politically correct outcome. And though I already said “finally,” there is at least one other meaning—namely that “Existing ‘evidence’ is anecdotal and doesn’t meet the requirements of what we consider evidence.”

    Unfortunately, all of this is lost on the average layperson, who is likely to translate the phrase “There is no evidence for the effectiveness of” to mean, simply, “This is not effective.”

  27. peepuk
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

    ‘soft on crime’

    If you are committed to determinism, there exists no objective reason to treat bad people much worse than other people.

    But at the same time there is also nothing against protecting yourself from harm.

    And there are no objective reasons why these two things don’t go together, just like we put people in a state of enforced isolation when they have possibly been exposed to some communicable disease (quarantine).

    Regrettably our feelings tell a different story: we humans want bad people to suffer.

    And for most people these feelings seem more convincing than cold logic. But this doesn’t mean that they are right; sometimes you have to go against your feelings, to do the right thing.

    • GBJames
      Posted December 22, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      This is why justice should be blind. It should not be up to victims to determine consequences.

  28. Posted December 22, 2016 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    So Mr. Crime and Punishment insists on taking emotion out of the punishment process just before justifying capital punishment by appealing to his emotions.

  29. phil
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    “What about the guy who murdered my friend’s sister? I’d like to shove a butcher knife up his ass. I’d like to hear him screaming while he dies. Because that would be justice,…”

    No, that would be retribution, or vengeance.

    “… and justice is good. Why can’t you see that?”

    Ah but PCC agrees that justice is good. Genuine justice that is. That is precisely what he is arguing, that much of what passes for justice isn’t justice at all.

    “Why do liberals always hate justice?”

    Liberals don’t. Silly question.

  30. phil
    Posted December 22, 2016 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

    PCC says “punishment” is to serve three purposes, “sequestering dangerous criminals away from society, to rehabilitate malefactors, and to serve as a deterrent for others”, which I broadly agree with, however…

    1. It seems a bit odd to me to describe rehabilitation as punishment. I think it is better described as some sort of social support or benefit scheme, after all it should benefit both the offender and society.

    2. Without doubt deterring criminal behaviour is a desirable goal, but as PCC admits further down, the death penalty is not an effective deterrent. In fact I have read and heard that penalties generally are not effective deterrents, but that the perceived prospect of getting caught is. The case of murder is a special one, in that it is frequently (i.e. more so that other crimes)committed in the heat of the moment, and perpetrators very often suffer remorse and give themselves up to justice.

    In support of a deterministic cause of crime, there is the hypothesis that violent crime has been associated with the prevalence of environmental lead, most notably from leaded petrol. The rise and fall of violent crime in many societies tracks the rise and fall of the use of leaded petrol, with a roughly 20 year delay in the crime figures. This was notably the case in New York where it coincided with Rudy Giuliani’s time as mayor, but the general correlation has been demonstrated in cities all around the world. Of course this does not determine a causal link, but it would be unethical to conduct a proper experiment to demonstrate causation.

  31. Posted December 22, 2016 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

    I would like to see an intensive scientific effort made to learn what elements of nature/nurture(or whatever you want to call it)most likely cause criminal behavior, and what can be done to prevent it rather than waiting until after crimes are committed to incarcerate or kill criminals. At what point in a deterministic world is it too late for individuals to learn and change and to prevent crime?

    Human beings who are mistreated,abused, poorly fed, undereducated,live in ghettoes (however you want to define them)are more likely to, and more often, commit crime than children raised more humanely. (Which is not to say that crime doesn’t happen elsewhere.) A friend of ours who used to provide a home and mentorship to juveniles released from the juvenile justice system in California believed that if only one of the many boys he took in went on to live a non-criminal, so-called normal life, he would consider himself successful. Once the damage is done, it’s extremely hard to fix it. And, it is a 24 hour a day, seven days a week, endeavor for many years on end. No time off.

    Sequestering criminals has not proven effective at deterring or preventing crime. In the 70s, when I took a college course on juvenile justice, the recidivism rate was said to be 66% in California. Efforts were made to keep young people who’d committed crimes out of the CYA (California Youth Authority) because of this dire result. Best to keep them out of the “system” which didn’t work.

    Following is a 2016 article, one of numerous internet sources on U.S. recidivism rates:

    “https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2016/may/5/report-documents-us-recidivism-rates-federal-prisoners/”

    Frankly, a number of our political leaders and judges seem incompetent to mete out judgment, and judgment by a jury of one’s so-called peers is a crap shoot. If the scientists can do better, I wish they would. Too many lives have been lost.

  32. Posted December 23, 2016 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    I once tried homeopathy but came down with a nasty case of dysentery when the water I used remembered the shit that was in it rather than the medicine I just diluted. At that point, I tried intercessory prayer and got a swift answer that the Almighty had better things to do that day, but rest assured, my request for healing was heard, the answer was simply “no.” I then finally tried allopathy and to my amazement, it worked like a charm. No more homeopathic prayer healings for this guy!

  33. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted December 23, 2016 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    We must deter crime, therefore we must have harsh punishments.

    To have a significant deterrence, a justice system needs to be effective at accurately detexting the perpetrator. Most peeps do not believe this is the case, and that they will not get caught. Therefore the nature of punishments is irrelevant. To effectively deter crime you need to persuade potential criminals that they will be caught, tried and punished.

    • phil
      Posted December 23, 2016 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      I heartily agree, however I think much of the problem lies in getting it appropriately addressed in the political sphere.

      Most people are for most of their lives unaffected by crime, or at least so they believe although their taxes are still spent on police, courts and prisons. It is hardly surprising then that most people have a “Yeah, whatever” attitude towards fixing the problem (and many others as well), which leaves politicians with freedom to do mostly whatever they like so as to be seen to be doing something without effectively tackling the problem.

      Something that would decrease crime, as Rowena suggest above, is to improve equity for all people. Decent education and health care benefit the whole society. The trouble is that probably means some people will have to contribute more of their hard earned than others, although I think it would ultimately benefit everyone.

  34. Ezzat Michel
    Posted December 23, 2016 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    I would very much like to get your piece on “the idea of free will”. Happy Holidays.

  35. Posted December 23, 2016 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Here is my extended response to all who claim “It helped me, so I know it works.”



    • Posted December 23, 2016 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      I tried to link to the YouTube video in compliance with Da Roolz. I’m sorry it didn’t work.


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