Quackery and Rabbitholes – By Kate Donovan

Posted by on June 15, 2012 in Featured, Guest Post, Thoughts | 0 comments

 I am on a blogging hiatus for a couple of weeks so I can concentrate on a larger project, which I’m sure you all will enjoy. In the meantime, I have invited a bunch super-smart authors, bloggers, vloggers, writers, clowns, and people with other interests to submit work here, just so the blog doesn’t stagnate. I hope you enjoy them. This piece was submitted by Kate Donovan, writer at Teen Skepchick and Friendly Atheist Blog. Her Twitter account is @donovanable so go follow her.

Martin S Pribble

I grew up about as credulously as one can. Homeopathy, ‘essential’ oils, chiropractic, cranial sacral massage, applied kinesiology, vaccine ‘skepticism’, it’s a laundry list of woo. To this day, I’m still better able to list the supposed properties of amethysts in aura cleansing than the instances in which Advil is useful.

Right around the end of my high school years, I started to get skeptical. When I knew pills filled with smelly oils would make me more sick, not less, I palmed them, or pretended to forget to take my ‘medicine’. I recognized that I had mental illness, and instead of trying to think it away, a la The Secret, I hid it from my parents, and self-treated until I moved away.

At university, I started to learn about taking real medicine. I checked my shot record—and upon learning I was short some key vaccines (was I still protected from chicken pox? No.), I made plans to rectify that. I stopped blaming earaches on psychic distress, and sunburns on a lack of proper vitamins. I organized my dorm by what looked pretty, rather than feng shui. It was the most thrilling freedom not to police my every thought for potentially disease-inducing undertones. It was glorious to know that germs caused illness, and there was something I could do about it.

Not using pseudoscience is great. There’s a number of people out there, most of them my idols, persuading people out of bleach enemas (no, seriously) and into the officers of degree-holding docs. I admire them immensely, and the work they do is important. They, along with a particular eight minute beat poem, saved my body some considerable distress and danger.

In becoming more rational, I missed something, something that gets left out of the discussion. I didn’t notice it until one afternoon when I fainted, which had been happening at least once a month, for as long as I’d been at college. It wasn’t anything extraordinary. I felt it coming, and I was sitting in a cushioned place. I just tipped over onto pillows and took what was, for all intents and purposes, a two second power nap. I woke right back up…and then I started thinking.

It is not normal to feel the world tipping and wobbling around.  I knew that. If it was anyone else telling me sometimes the sidewalk appeared to be at a 45° angle to their feet, I’d be worried for them! I’d insist they make an appointment at the doctor’s. So why hadn’t I done anything? I hadn’t considered that a doctor might offer something helpful until that very second.

I’d done my best to eradicate the woo from my life—but I hadn’t replaced homeopathy with healthy habits. When I felt sick, I just didn’t mention it; I wasn’t going to get my ‘energy’ balanced, but nor was I ever going to think to call up the health clinic. I wasn’t behaving in a way that was any better for my body than during my alt-med days. Sure, I wasn’t taking expensive sugar pills, but arguably, I was doing worse by substituting the placebo effect with…nothing.

It isn’t enough to just convince the public that no matter how nice it smells, aromatherapy isn’t equal to antibiotics—we’ve got to teach proactivity. It’s not enough to avoid the quack down the street—you’ve got to drive to see the medical doctor, too.

Kate is a sophomore studying psychology and human development at Northwestern University. She is the president of Northwestern’s Secular Student Alliance and a writer at Teen Skepchick and the Friendly Atheist blog.
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