Friday, April 4, 2008

Truthiness and the BBC

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Truthiness is a word that U.S. television comedian Stephen Colbert popularized in 2005 as a satirical term to describe things that a person claims to know intuitively or "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. From Wikipedia

I grew up with a certain amount of truthiness. Living around physicists I learned that truthiness despite claims to the contrary was quite prevalent in the sciences. I didn't have a name for it back then but frequently emotion was present as reason because a scientist just knows these things.

Dr. Kathy Sykes, a physicist, on a recent BBC broadcast on reflexology demonstrated truthiness quite well. As a scientist she knows all about reflexology and it's research. She took 15 research studies and dismissed them with a wave of her hand.

The only problem with this form of truthiness is I corresponded with her BBC executive producer, Matthew Barrett, who assured me that these studies were taken from PubMed, a service of Medline. Medline is a database based on NIH standards which happen to be the highest in the world. These are the peer reviewed journals of medicine not reflexology.

That means that Dr. Sykes, a physicist, dismissed 15 studies done to NIH standards even though she is not a medical researcher of any sort. She just "knew" what was right and what is wrong. This is definitely a time saver.

The ironic part of this is that this truthiness about comes at a point where BBC is shutting down their Complementary Therapies division of their web site. Rumor has it that the BBC folded in response to the skeptics. (I know that this is true because of my gut feelings therefore it is true.)

While I have met some real fine skeptics there are many legions of skeptics that are firm practitioners of truthiness. They have whole forums where they reinforce their truthiness by being able to just know what is truth and what is fiction. And as long as more than one skeptic says it is true it has to be true.

Funny thing, the BBC refused to let me do a rebuttal. They just knew their report was fair and balanced. Truthiness in action.

Kevin Kunz

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