Being a Sceptic in a World of Bullcrap

I don’t like the word sceptic. It is frequently used in a negative way by the media; associated with conspiracists, UFO hunters, and guys that sit in their underwear all day eating cold beans from a can.

In the true sense of the word, I am a sceptic. When I read news stories, I am always a little sceptical as to whether they are true. Can you really blame me? I can’t think of a major newspaper or TV studio that hasn’t fabricated a story out of fresh air.

There have been many times when traveling when my “Bullshit Radar” has nearly exploded, however you need to be patient with people from other cultures, particularly when they come from a country with old customs.

I remember being at a house party in The Philippines in 2003. I was introduced to a man about 40 to 50 years old. He was introduced as a healer. Despite my protests that I was ok, everyone there was keen to see the healer do what he does best.

So after much prodding, I said that my head and stomach had been a little sore. He then proceeded to prod my head and body with his fingers whilst doing silly chants. He asked if I felt better. I replied “not really”. So he did the same thing all over again. Looking at the faces of everyone around me, I decided to say that I did feel better. It was the easiest way out of a socially awkward situation.

The man was probably scamming everyone in area on a regular basis. Thankfully, I didn’t have to pay for his little witch doctor routine.

The Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense
A Venn Diagram of Irrational Nonsense from Crispian Jago.

I was reminded of this story two weeks ago. The pillow in my hotel room was really big. As a result of using it for a few days, I had pain in my neck. When I went to my Spanish class the following day, I mentioned to my teacher that I didn’t sleep well and my neck was sore. He advised me he had a similar problem in the past, and he knew a good doctor that helped him.

I initially said I would phone him later, but my neck was in such pain that I was willing to take a risk. So he called him up and we went to his office right away.

I advised the doctor that I had pain in my neck, explained I had a previous neck injury, and noted that the pain had been caused by sleeping on a pillow that was too big.

Despite this, he started prodding all over my stomach and asking if I felt pain anywhere. He then asked me if I had been eating a lot of meat. Clearly, he wanted me to say yes, so that he could then place blame on that, however when I told him that I was vegetarian, he still gave me the standard reply of “Ahhhhhhh”. It’s the old classic switcharoo; if I had told him I had eaten steak the day before, he would have given me the same response and came to pretty much the same conclusion.

His conclusion was that I had pain in my stomach because I was vegetarian (it would have been caused by too much meat if I had not told him I am vegetarian). I disagreed. I didn’t have pain in my stomach, I only had pain when he put his fingers into known pressure points. I imagine this bullshit routine works on a lot of people, but I was not impressed, and disagreed 100% with his disagnosis.

I said over and over that my stomach was fine, it was my neck that was in severe pain. He was having none of it and kept repeating the pain stemmed from my stomach.

He then advised he could heal me my sticking needles in me and applying medicine….for only $50 (what a bargain!!). If my spanish teacher had not been there, I would have laughed and walked out. Unfortunately, my spanish teacher was a really nice guy and he truly believed this guy could help me, the whole time he was nodding his head in agreement with the doctor’s fairy tales. So I paid the $15 consultation fee, said “thanks, but no thanks”, and left the office pissed off.

When you are in a lot of pain, you will try anything. When I pinched a nerve in my neck I went to the hospital, saw a chiropractor and even a Chinese masseuse (what a complete waste of money that was!). The problem is, so many people out there are easily duped by bullshit routines that do nothing but make your wallet lighter (though I am not disputing the placebo effect).

It was obviously my fault for going to the doctors office in the first place. Had I known that he was a fraud who would give the same diagnosis regardless of the symptoms, I would not have went. Unfortunately, I was under the impression he was a normal doctor.

It can be difficult being a sceptic. Sometimes I think life would be easier if I was ignorant and just accepted all the lies that people old me.

How do you deal with lies and fairy tales when you encounter them in polite society?

:)

Kevin

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